NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — On Saturday, a bridge over the Yellowstone River collapsed, causing several freight train cars carrying hazardous materials like hot asphalt and molten sulfur to fall into the water.
Unfortunately, as the Yellowstone River is a tributary (meaning it flows into the Missouri River), there is some concern that this spill could put our mighty Missouri at risk of contamination. This could have a number of impacts on our primary river here in North Dakota, as the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality notes.
“One of the primary concerns is that the Missouri River is a drinking water source for a lot of our communities,” said NDDEQ’s Director of Water Quality, Karl Rockeman. “That’s probably our primary concern– making sure they’re aware of it, and again, depending on what the contaminant is, they can take steps on their end to protect their water systems. The second concern would be for the aquatic life. There are a lot of fish of various types, endangered, that live in the Missouri and the Yellowstone, so we certainly wouldn’t want anything that could be harmful to them either.
But Rockeman says at this time, the train derailment in Yellowstone poses no risk.
“Certainly it’s something we’re tracking,” he continued. “This derailment occurred actually west of Billings, so it’s quite a ways into Montana. Even if there was an impact, it would take a little while for it to reach North Dakota — but at this point, it looks like the impacts are mostly located right in that immediate area. We’ve been in contact with our colleagues in Montana and with the EPA, and they’re certainly keeping a close eye on things there — and will notify us if things start to move farther downstream than what they expect.”
However, if there was a risk, proper protocols will be followed to make sure all of the contaminant is removed safely and properly. Rockeman says the protocols that will be taken vary depending on what is in the river.
“First,” he explained, “we’ll look at trying to contain it as we can and remove it from the water. If that’s not possible, we try to direct it so it’s not impacting sensitive areas like our drinking water intakes. But part of it is that we need to wait for it to dilute in the water that’s in there, and somewhat break down depending on what the substance is.”
It’s also important to note that humans can also contaminate the river. Rockeman says many storm drains lead into the Missouri River eventually, and they’re only meant for rainwater — so people should refrain from putting anything in these drains that should not be placed in them.
Rockeman says there have been other spills that have impacted the Missouri River, but the most notable was the Glendive crude oil spill in 2015.