NATIONAL NEWS

Cleanup begins after asphalt binder spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River after train derailment

Jul 2, 2023, 3:22 PM

In this photo provided ny Yellowstone River Research Center, Rocky Mountain College Environmental Science summer research student Josephine Eccher examines a mat of petroleum products more than 10 feet long and several inches thick along the Yellowstone River, June 30, 2023, near Columbus, Mont. The petroleum products spilled into the river when a railroad bridge over the river collapsed on June 24 and part of a freight train plunged into the water. (Kayhan Ostovar/Yellowstone River Research Center at Rocky Mountain College via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Kayhan Ostovar/Yellowstone River Research Center at Rocky Mountain College via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Globs of asphalt binder that spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River during a bridge collapse and train derailment could be seen on islands and riverbanks downstream from Yellowstone National Park a week after the spill occurred, witnesses report.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency said cleanup efforts began on Sunday, with workers cooling the gooey material with river water, rolling it up and putting the globs into garbage bags. It will probably be recycled, said Paul Peronard with the EPA.

Alexis Bonogofsky, whose family’s ranch was impacted by an oil spill on the Yellowstone River near Billings in 2011, took pictures Saturday of the refined petroleum product covering rocks and sandbars. She also snapped an image of a bird that had died in the black substance.

“This killdeer walked across the asphalt, which had heated up in the sun, and it got stuck and died with its head buried in the asphalt,” Bonogofsky wrote in the caption of an image she posted on social media. “You could tell where it had tried to pull itself out.”

A bridge over the river collapsed as a train crossed it early on June 24 near the town of Columbus and materials were expected to cool and harden when exposed to the cold water and officials said there was no threat to the public or downstream water supplies, officials said.

However, the asphalt binder behaved differently.

“This stuff is not sinking in this water,” Peronard said Sunday. “It adheres really well to rock and we can roll it up like taffy on the sand.”

Bonogofsky, in another of her photos, captured a sheen on the water. She said the spilled material heated up with warmer temperatures and “you can smell it.”

Professor Kayhan Ostovar with the Yellowstone River Research Center at Rocky Mountain College also took pictures Friday of the petroleum product that had washed onto the river bank about 6 miles (10 kilometers) downstream from the spill.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA and Montana Rail Link — the entities managing the cleanup — said more asphalt product was released Friday as a rail car was being removed from the river.

“Initial assessments indicate the release was minimal based on the amount of material believed to still be remaining in the impacted car,” the statement said.

Statements from the agencies and the railroad over the past week have asked people to report the sighting of asphalt materials on the riverbank via email to rpderailment@mtrail.com, and have listed a phone number — 888-275-6926 — for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to report animals with oil on them.

No reports from the public had been received, Peronard said.

Bonogofsky argued it shouldn’t have taken more than a week to develop a cleanup plan, especially since it’s known what materials the trains haul through Montana, as well as the damage the 2011 oil pipeline spill caused.

“We should have plans in place for this and we should have learned our lesson in 2011,” she said, arguing that work to clean up the asphalt binder could have happened at the same time they were removing rail cars from the water.

The last of the rail cars was expected to be removed from the water on Sunday, Peronard said, while agricultural users were notified that they could resume using river water for irrigation. Their irrigation canals had been shut down as a precaution.

Cleaning up spills of petroleum products is “somewhat of a losing game,” Peronard said. “We are never going to recover all of the oil here … and there’s likely to be impacts when we are done. That is unavoidable.”

As far as the cleanup delay, he said the response to any accident starts with protecting human lives, controlling the source of the spill and then protecting the environment. He said the agency also had to make sure its cleanup plan did not cause more harm than good for bird and turtle nests in the area.

Cleanup crews also have to stay at least a half mile away from eagles nesting in the area, Peronard said.

The spilled asphalt material is not water soluble, he said.

National News

In this photo provided by the Morgan & Morgan law firm, utility contractors remove a charred Hawaii...

Associated Press

Takeaways from AP report on Maui fire investigation

Investigators are trying to solve a mystery about the origin of last month’s deadly Maui wildfire: How did a small, wind-whipped fire sparked by downed power lines and declared extinguished flare up again hours later into a devastating inferno that killed at least 97 people? Here are the key takeaways of an Associated Press investigation […]

5 hours ago

This photo provided by the Morgan & Morgan law firm shows a charred Hawaiian Electric utility pole ...

Associated Press

How did the Maui fire spread so quickly? Overgrown gully, stubborn embers may be key to probe

Melted remains of an old car tire. Heavily burned trees. A charred stump of an abandoned utility pole. Investigators are examining these and other pieces of evidence as they seek to solve the mystery of last month’s deadly Maui wildfire: How did a small, wind-whipped fire sparked by downed power lines and declared extinguished flare […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Damarra Atkins pays respect to George Floyd at a mural at George Floyd Square, Friday, April...

Associated Press

Black Americans express concerns about racist depictions in news media, lack of coverage efforts

NEW YORK (AP) — In a new study, Black Americans expressed broad concerns about how they are depicted in the news media, with majorities saying they see racist or negative depictions and a lack of effort to cover broad segments of their community. Four in five Black adults say they see racist or racially insensitive […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in March 2021,...

Associated Press

Expert ruling that Colorado supermarket shooting suspect is competent for trial set to be debated

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — A hearing begins Wednesday to determine if the man accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in 2021 is mentally competent to stand trial. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 24, was found mentally competent by experts at the state mental hospital in August, but his defense attorney Kathryn Herold asked […]

7 hours ago

FILE-Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with Strider Technologies, an AI-powered strategic intelligen...

Associated Press

Race to replace Mitt Romney heats up as Republican Utah House speaker readies to enter

Republican Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson is poised to formally announce at a Wednesday night rally that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mitt Romney, who recently announced he won’t run for reelection. Romney announced earlier this month that he won’t seek a second term, saying younger people needed to […]

7 hours ago

FILE - A map of a GOP proposal to redraw Alabama's congressional districts is displayed at the Alab...

Associated Press

In a win for Black voters in redistricting case, Alabama to get new congressional lines

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is headed to the first significant revamp of its congressional map in three decades after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s bid to keep using a plan with a single majority-Black district. The decision on Tuesday sets the stage for a new map with greater representation for Black voters […]

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Cleanup begins after asphalt binder spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River after train derailment