Days after a crude oil spill contaminated Yellowstone River, an eastern Montana city has just learned a cancer-causing element in oil, known as benzene, is lurking in their drinking water supply.
The spill, which occurred last Saturday, was responsible for nearly 50,000 gallons of crude released in the Yellowstone River. A break in a 12-inch pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. is blamed for the spill.
Local officials confirmed heightened levels of benzene were found in samples taken from a water treatment plant responsible for serving fresh drinking water to the city of Glendive, an agricultural community of around 6,000 people near the North Dakota border.
Considering the dangers associated with the citizens’ tap water, bottled water is currently being delivered by the truckload to the community. However, some residents fear they may not have been warned in time.
“It sucks,” 36-year-old oilfield worker Wesley Henderson told the Associated Press. “I didn’t find out about the advisory until after I’d been drinking it. My stomach hurt all day yesterday. I don’t know if that was just in my mind.”
Henderson claims he bought five gallons of water after his wife mentioned an odd odor permeating their tap water. The advisory against drinking the carcinogenic tap water wasn’t issued by Glendive’s treatment plant until late Monday.
Another citizen, Shawn Edman, told the news agency he believes that the advisory wasn’t issued timely enough.
“It seems like a late advisory,” he said. “That’s two days later.”
Although the elevated amounts of benzene in the drinking water are far above the levels recommended for long-term consumption, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s scientists believe the exposure won’t cause any short-term health hazards. The water system’s decontamination is presently being planned by local, state and federal officials.
Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison said he has no estimate on when the water treatment facility will be operational. Until that time, however, citizens of Glendive are warned not to drink tap water or use it for cooking.
Since 2011, there have been two major spills affecting the Yellowstone River. In July 2011 ExxonMobil had a pipeline break, resulting in roughly 63,000 gallons of oil poured into an 85-mile stretch of the riverbank. The oil spill caused up to $3.4 million in federal and state fines against ExxonMobil, as well as about $135 million spent by the company in cleanup and other cleanup-related tasks.