Oil Spill Contaminates Eastern Montana City Water Supply

Oil Spill Contamination in Montana

An hour-long breach in a pipeline along the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana contaminated the drinking water supply of the city after up to 50,000 gallons of oil entered the city’s water on January 17. This oil spill contaminated the majority of Montana city’s water supply. A break in a 12-inch pipeline owned by Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline Co. has rushed residents to buy bottled water until the danger was over.

Truckloads of bottled water were expected to be brought on Tuesday, January 20 and people were warned not to drink or cook with tap water. However, the advisory against ingesting tap water from the city’s treatment plant was issued late Monday, 2 days later after the crude oil spill. Preliminary tests from Montana and the US EPA representatives did not show a cause of concern. Additional tests were ordered and carried after residents complained of a petroleum- or diesel-like smell coming from their tap water.

Tests revealed the water contained elevated levels of benzene, a cancer-causing component of oil. The elevated amounts of benzene found were above the levels recommended for long-term consumption but do not pose a short-term health hazard, as scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Facts about Benzene

The major sources of benzene in drinking water come from discharge from factories, and leaching from gas storage tanks and landfills. EPA regulates benzene in drinking water to protect public health. Benzene may cause health problems if present in public or private water supplies. Other facts you should know about benzene:

  • it is a volatile organic chemical, a clear, colorless aromatic liquid
  • it is highly flammable which will need to be stored in protective cabinets (click here) when needed
  • it is formed through natural processes, such as volcanoes and forest fires, and also from industrial processes
  • it is a natural part of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke
  • used as a building block for making plastics, rubber, resins and synthetic fabrics
  • used also as a solvent in printing, paints, dry cleaning
  • people who drink water containing benzene in levels that are above the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for many years could experience anemia or a decrease in blood platelets, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer

As for EPA’s drinking water regulations for benzene, the MCLG set for benzene is zero. EPA has set an enforceable regulation for benzene, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.005 mg/L or 5 ppb. However, states may set more stringent drinking water MCLGs and MCLs for benzene than EPA.

When routine monitoring indicates that benzene levels are above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of benzene so that it is below that level. They must notify customers as soon as practical, but no later than 30 days after the system learns of the violation.

Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

Removing Benzene from Water

Water containing more than 0.005 parts per million of benzene should not be used for domestic water supplies! Benzene requires a specific treatment process for removal from water. Granular activated carbon or charcoal are recommended to remove benzene from well water if your water source comes from a well. Activated charcoal or granular activated carbon filters:

  • improve the taste
  • remove odor of the water
  • remove some contaminants in water supplies
  • are effective in removing benzene, as well as vola ­tile organic compounds (VOCs)

A typical water softener will not remove benzene from the water! Call us at 760.734.5787 and get in touch with one of our water experts today.


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