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Crews to resume clean up of asphalt from train derailment in Yellowstone River

A large section of asphalt on Yellowstone River island near Laurel.
Posted at 10:40 AM, Oct 11, 2023

Crews are restarting efforts to recover asphalt spilled into the Yellowstone River during a June 24 train derailment after dropping water levels and river maintenance exposed more of the material.

The Unified Command for the Stillwater Train Derailment announced Tuesday that the cleanup will begin this week, covering river miles 21 to 35, which runs approximately from Columbus to Park City.

Crews will conduct the cleanup from the shoreline based on landowner access, river conditions and other factors. Officials said they won't use boats because they aren't safe in current water conditions.

An additional 3,600 pounds of asphalt was recovered recently that wasn't previously identified. Crew have pulled an estimated 235,813 pounds of asphalt from the river since the derailment.

Ten cars of the Montana Rail Link train derailed near Reed Point when the Twin Bridges railroad bridge collapsed underneath, spilling asphalt and molten sulphur into the water. The cleanup was halted Aug. 16 when officials determined three or fewer "actionable asphalt areas" were left within a 10-mile stretch of the river.

Officials are continuing to assess the total damage from the incident. In September, officials warned against consuming any fish caught in the Yellowstone River between Reed Point and Laurel after elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, were found in multiple fish species. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, PAHs are commonly released during the paving of asphalt and are potentially cancer causing.

Members of the public are encouraged to avoid contact with the material and report observed deposits to rpderailment@mtrail.com

Anyone with information about oiled or impacted wildlife are encouraged to call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) Response Hotline at 888-ASK-OWCN (888-275-6926).

Related: Crews collect asphalt, prepare for bridge repair at derailment site near Reed Point