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After Alarming Discovery, Montana Issues Warning Not to Eat Fish Caught Where Train Derailed Into River

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Following a train derailment in June, Montana officials conducted a test of fish downstream from the site of the accident and found contamination sufficient to warrant an advisory against consuming any fish caught in the area.

The freight train plunged into the river after a bridge over the Yellowstone River collapsed on June 24, The Associated Press reported at the time.

No one was injured in the crash, but several tank cars were at least partially submerged in the river. A reporter noted an unidentified yellow liquid pouring out of at least two cars.

The advisory was issued by the Fish Consumption Advisory Board, a joint effort of Montana’s Department of Public Health & Human Services, Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Five mountain whitefish collected by FWP staff were found to contain high levels of phenanthrene, a chemical found in “products such as oil, gas, plastics, and pesticides,” according to the advisory.

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Animal testing has found that exposure to high levels of phenanthrene was linked to “birth defects, reproductive problems, and damages to skin, body fluids, and immune systems.” No testing has been done to determine whether eating fish contaminated with the chemical would be dangerous for humans.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not officially designated the chemical as cancer-causing, but other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been found to cause cancer in both animals and humans.

Five rainbow trout also collected for testing showed no such contamination.

“Additional fisheries testing will be conducted in the area later this week,” the advisory promised. “FWP plans to target additional mountain whitefish and rainbow trout, brown trout, shorthead redhorse, longnose suckers, and white suckers as available.”

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The board said said that updates to its advisory may be warranted as it continues testing.

The advisory appears in full below.

The Fish Consumption Advisory Board, consisting of representatives from Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS), Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), has issued an initial consumption advisory on all mountain whitefish caught in the Yellowstone River from Twin Bridges Road railroad bridge to Laurel. Further testing is needed to determine the contamination source and long-term guidance. The board may update the initial consumption advisory as more information is gathered.

As part of a follow-up to the train derailment that occurred on June 24, FWP staff collected five mountain whitefish and five rainbow trout of various lengths below the derailment site for contaminant testing. Results from the mountain whitefish tests showed levels of a chemical called phenanthrene high enough to warrant an advisory to avoid all consumption of mountain whitefish. It is not yet known if the impacts to mountain whitefish are a result of the train derailment. Rainbow trout collected in this area did not show any levels of contamination. No other species of fish, including brown trout, were collected for testing.

Additional fisheries testing will be conducted in the area later this week. FWP plans to target additional mountain whitefish and rainbow trout, brown trout, shorthead redhorse, longnose suckers, and white suckers as available. Fish will be collected above and below the derailment site. Those with specific concerns may want to avoid consuming any species of fish from the Yellowstone River in the area until more is known on the severity and prevalence of this contamination. The agencies will alert the public as soon as this information is available. 

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Phenanthrene is within a group of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. The specific source of this chemical present in the mountain whitefish is currently unknown, as some PAHs occur naturally in the environment, especially in the shale rock common in the Yellowstone River Basin. PAHs are also found in products such as oil, gas, plastics, and pesticides—and are produced through combustion of these products. Laboratory tests on animals have shown exposure to PAHs can cause birth defects, reproductive problems, and damages to skin, body fluids, and immune systems. These effects from eating fish with high levels of PAHs have not been recorded in humans.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have not classified phenanthrene as a cancer-causing substance because there is not enough information on this specific chemical. However, exposure to other PAHs has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and in people who work for many years around mixtures of PAHs.

The advisory also offered links to additional inforrmation regarding PAHS and phenanthrene, available here and here.

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George Upper is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Western Journal and was a weekly co-host of "WJ Live," powered by The Western Journal. He is currently a contributing editor in the areas of faith, politics and culture. A former U.S. Army special operator, teacher and consultant, he is a lifetime member of the NRA and an active volunteer leader in his church. Born in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he has lived most of his life in central North Carolina.
George Upper, is the former editor-in-chief of The Western Journal and is now a contributing editor in the areas of faith, politics and culture. He currently serves as the connections pastor at Awestruck Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a former U.S. Army special operator, teacher, manager and consultant. Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Foxborough High School before joining the Army and spending most of the next three years at Fort Bragg. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in English as well as a Master's in Business Administration, all from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He and his wife life only a short drive from his three children, their spouses and his grandchildren. He is a lifetime member of the NRA and in his spare time he shoots, reads a lot of Lawrence Block and John D. MacDonald, and watches Bruce Campbell movies. He is a fan of individual freedom, Tommy Bahama, fine-point G-2 pens and the Oxford comma.
Birthplace
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Beta Gamma Sigma
Education
B.A., English, UNCG; M.A., English, UNCG; MBA, UNCG
Location
North Carolina
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Business, Leadership and Management, Military, Politics




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