The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed adding a contaminated site surrounding downtown Billings to a list for additional study and cleanup.
The agency announced Tuesday that the listing of the Billings PCE site, which is centered around the current Big Sky Linen location on Central Avenue, is subject to a 60-day public review beginning Thursday.
The listing would help Billings gain access to federal money for cleanup.
The 855-acre site's groundwater was contaminated with perchloroethylene, PCE, and Tetrachloroethylene (TCE) from two laundromats decades ago. Elevated levels of the chemicals were first discovered at the site in 1991.
The Billings site is one of five the EPA is proposing to add to its National Priorities List. The Billings City Council directed Gov. Steve Bullock's office to seek the designation in November 2019.
The Billings PCE site consists of a contaminant plume in shallow groundwater, extending approximately three miles under a mixed-use area to the northeast of downtown Billings.
The primary health concern at the site is vapor intrusion. Chlorinated solvents can vaporize from the groundwater, move into air, and accumulate in the indoor air of overlying structures. A person breathing this contaminated indoor air could experience immediate symptoms such as nausea to more serious long-term conditions including neurological, liver or kidney effects, even certain cancers.
Although there are no known potable uses of the shallow groundwater, a person might also be exposed if they drink contaminated water from irrigation wells or use irrigation water for recreational purposes.