Montana Oil Spill Leaves Trace Amounts of Carcinogenic Benzene in Drinking Water

Drinking water in parts of Montana have been contaminated by a major oil spill that contaminated the Yellowstone River

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Trace amounts of benzene, a known carcinogen, were found in the water supply after the spill. 

Health officials have warned residents of Glendive, Mont. and surrounding towns not to drink tap water after discovering trace amounts of benzene — a human carcinogen that the World Health Organization has identified as being connected to “a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and aplastic anemia” — in a water treatment plant following a massive oil spill on Saturday, January 17 near the town.

The spill, which let loose 50,000 gallons of oil, was the result of a burst steel pipeline, which spilled into the Yellowstone River and “sent light crude oil flowing downstream as far as the confluence with the Missouri River, 60 miles away in North Dakota,” according to The New York Times.

Although federal officials have announced that short-term exposure to the water is not dangerous, residents have said that the oil spill has rendered the water undrinkable.

As of Monday, January 19, Governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency for Dawson and Richland Counties, and state officials began delivering pallets of bottled water to residents and grocery stores on Tuesday. The spill has also prompted a number of local businesses and restaurants to close, as residents can’t so much as wash their hands without noticing the smell of oil.

Lana Warner, a local barista, told The New York Times that as of Tuesday, the smell of petroleum was still quite strong.

“I can’t get rid of it,” said Warner. “It’s made it kind of tough because everything you touch smells like that. As long as I smell it there’s no way I’m drinking it. And right now it’s very, very strong.”

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