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EPA Identifies Two Contaminants Found On Flathead Lake Shoreline

An oily sheen on the shoreline of Flathead Lake near Somers, MT, May 2017.
Nicky Ouellet
The Environmental Protection Agency says it has detected elevated levels of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds in samples taken from the oily sheen on the shoreline of Flathead Lake near Somers.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified two compounds in the mysterious oily sheen detected along the shoreline of Flathead Lake near Somers earlier this month.

Volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds were previously detected in samples taken from water pooled along the shoreline at Somers Bay.

The exact origin of those compounds remains unclear, but today, the EPA said its latest analysis detected elevated levels of naphthalene and acenaphthene. Those two compounds could be associated with chemical wood treatments used at the former Somers Tie Plant, which treated railway ties with creosote and other chemicals for several decades before being listed as a Superfund site in the mid-1980s.

"While there is no indication of widespread contamination along the shoreline or in the lake that would represent a public health risk, these findings underscore the importance of ongoing efforts at the site," says Katherine Jenkins, a spokesperson for the EPA.

BNSF Railway, which owns the former tie plant site, removed the oily sheen material from the shoreline as a precaution earlier this month. The railway company had said it believed the sheen was biological in nature, not man-made.

The EPA says it and the state Department of Environmental Quality will continue to work with BNSF to assess the area, including a feasibility study to evaluate cleanup needs for the site. That study is expected early next year.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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