Officials in Montana are warning against eating any fish caught near this summer's train derailment in the Yellowstone River due to potential contaminations.

A consumption warning has been issued for all fish species in the Yellowstone River close to the scene of June's train derailment by the Montana Fish Consumption Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives from the departments of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS), Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP).

The presence of many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, at concentrations sufficient to warrant this caution for all fish species—game and nongame—was found.

Sampling Results

Longnose suckers, shorthead redhorses, rainbow and brown trout, mountain whitefish, and other fish were gathered by FWP employees from locations upstream and downstream of the location of the June 24 train derailment at the Twin Bridges Road railroad bridge.

Multiple species revealed levels of different PAHs high enough to justify a warning against any ingestion. Naphthalene, which is present in many fish species, as well as 1- and 2-methylnapthalene and acenaphthylene, which are specifically present in mountain whitefish, are specific PAHs that have been identified in these fish.

Fish were gathered 6.2 river miles downstream of Holmgren FAS and 6.5 river miles upstream of the derailment site near Indian Fort FAS.

As a follow-up to the railway crash, FWP employees had already taken mountain whitefish and rainbow trout from the Yellowstone River below the derailment site.

This sampling revealed elevated levels of phenanthrene, another PAH, in mountain whitefish, which prompted the agency to carry out more sampling. On August 11, a consumption advisory was issued to prohibit the intake of any mountain whitefish.

During the most recent sampling, phenanthrene was not detected in any fish.

In this portion of the Yellowstone River, numerous fish species, particularly brown and rainbow trout, migrate annually for spawning and to locate colder water in the hotter summer months.

Until more is known about the extent and prevalence of this pollution, persons with special concerns may want to refrain from consuming any type of fish from the Yellowstone River anywhere due to the need for extreme caution and the unknowable circumstances in nearby areas of the river.

Next Steps

The origin of the PAHs is still a mystery.

Given that many everyday products contain PAHs, including those discovered in these fish, it may be difficult to pinpoint a specific source.

Some PAHs are present in the environment naturally, particularly in the shale rock that is prevalent in the Yellowstone River Basin. Additionally, PAHs are created by the combustion of materials like oil, gas, plastics, and insecticides and can be detected in these items as well.

To identify the source of any contamination and provide long-term guidance, more testing is still required.

In order to better understand the scope of PAHs for human consumption concerns, FWP intends to increase sampling on the Yellowstone River.

Fish will also be sampled from areas on the Yellowstone River more upstream and farther downstream of the derailment site. The specific plans for this extra sampling are currently being reviewed by FWP, DEQ, and DPHHS.

Naphthalene, 1-methylnaphthalene, and 2-methylnaphthalene have all been identified as potentially carcinogenic to humans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Phenanthrene and acenaphthene, the other two PAHs that have been found in fish tissue samples, are not recognized as carcinogens.

Animal studies have also demonstrated adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system, immunological system, reproductive system, kidneys, and skin from consuming high doses of PAHs.

Impact on humans have yet to be recorded in studies.

For more information on PAHs, including the specific PAHs found in the fish tissue samples, visit:

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