Hydrocarbons have been found at detectable levels in fish taken from the Yellowston River prompting the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to issue a warning of consuming fish caught below the January spill site.
Detectable levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), known carcinogens, were found to be in the muscle tissue of fish collected from below the pipeline breach, said Trevor Selch, fisheries pollution biologist. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the fish are inedible.
“It’s not a ‘don’t eat’ advisory,” Selch said. “You’d probably be OK (if you ate the fish), but they (PAHs) are out there. The less carcinogens you put in your body the better.”
The amount of the chemicals found in the fish before an advisory is issued is set by health standards established in Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, he said. Those levels are based on a lifetime of consumption, he added. So eating fish right now wouldn’t necessarily make someone sick.
The EPA has levels for all types of chemicals found in fish, such as mercury, but PAHs normally shouldn’t be detectable. Even with the spill Selch said they were surprised to find any detectable level.
“We weren’t expecting to find any (PAHs), so the fact that we did was alarming,” he said.
There is a lot of uncertainty with the dangers, he added. For example, out of three sample groups, only two had detectable levels of PAHs, and the sample sizes were smaller than would be ideal because of difficulty collecting fish from the frozen river.
“It’s tough for crews to get out there,” Selch said. “We’re hoping once the ice breaks up, we’ll be able to collect more samples.”
Samples were taken from the Blackridge area near Glendive, and an open area just below the diversion dam, said Mike Backes, FWP.
“Because of the ice, sampling was in marginal locations,” Backes said. “We couldn’t collect any fish upstream because the nearest open water was near Miles City.”
Asked if he would eat the fish, Selch said, “I would use caution and just avoid it at this point. Luckily, this isn’t really a hot fishing time.”
Bridger Pipeline’s Poplar Pipeline spilled up to 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude into the Yellowstone River on Jan. 17. To date, about 23,000 gallons have been recovered.
most of which was still in the pipeline. Ice has made recovery operations difficult for crews.