Crews removed more than 7,000 pounds of asphalt Monday from the area around the derailment of a train in the Yellowstone River near Reed Point, officials said in a Tuesday news release.
All 17 cars have been removed from the scene, and crews are shifting focus to cleanup and beginning work on rebuilding the bridge, according to the joint release from unified command which includes the EPA, Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services, Montana Rail Link and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
“There were lots of things happening simultaneously, so the cleanup of the asphalt material did begin this past Sunday,” said the public information officer for the EPA, Beth Archer, on Tuesday. “Part of the issue with starting cleanup when the cars were still in the water is, with that complex Jenga, if we removed a car and a big piece of metal was carried downstream, that could pose a really serious risk to somebody. That could be very dangerous.”
The Montana Rail Link train derailed June 24 while crossing the Twin Bridges railroad bridge. Cars containing asphalt, molten sulfur and scrap metal fell into the river.
Archer did now know the exact amount of material spilled into the river from the train cars, but in the first two days of cleaning up downstream, crews gathered approximately 8,500 pounds of asphalt from the river.
“Each day as we’re doing it, the crews are getting more and more experienced with what this looks like and they’re able to get more material and get it faster, which is exactly what we want to see," Archer said. “We’re doing everything we can to not ruin the environment in the effort of our cleanup. So, we’re doing cleanups in really targeted ways to remove the material but also leave the ecosystem as healthy as it can be.”
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is also at the cleanup command site, located at the Holmgren Fishing Access, assessing the repercussions the spill could have for the wildlife.
“We’re surveying the entire area. We’ve gone 70 to 80 miles downriver doing an assessment trying to determine those areas at risk,” said OWCN director Michael Ziccardi.
The group has only reported finding one dead bird as a direct result of the derailment.
“I’ve been to spills that have been literally disasters from the start. This is the type of spill that we like to respond to only because the animals appear to be healthy and appear to have avoided a lot of the major acute impacts,” Ziccardi said.
A second public meeting will be held Thursday, July 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbus High School Gym to discuss the response. The meeting can also be accessed by Zoom. Click here for more information.
Members of the public are encouraged to continue reporting sightings of any asphalt material they observe to the email below and continue to avoid touching the material with bare skin. This email can also be used for any impacted landowners to start the process of filing a claim. To report observed asphalt material, submit information to: email@example.com.