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DEQ, EPA To Hold Public Meeting On Billings' Indoor Air Quality

Testing for the presence of harmful vapors at a site in St. Louis Park, MN.
MPCA Photos
Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Testing for the presence of harmful vapors at a site in St. Louis Park, MN.

Officials are concerned that chemicals in the water are negatively affecting the air quality inside almost 50 homes and businesses in east and southeast Billings.

The contamination has been on officials’ radar since the 1990s.

Mike Gipson with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says prior to the 1970s, dry cleaners used degreasers that leaked into the sewer and possibly directly into the soil.

He says such contamination is fairly common across the country and some of the more serious contamination is linked to Big Sky Linen.

Gipson says the use of solvents like tetrachloroethylene faded away in the 1970s.

“You know that was prior to the knowledge of what solvents could do. It was just it goes into the ground and it’s filtered through the ground and then it’s clean, or so it was thought,” says Gipson.

He says many dry cleaners are now steering away from using those solvents.

But the contamination in the Billings area remains to this day.

He says water quality is not a problem because Billings gets its water from the Yellowstone River.

However, the DEQ is concerned about solvent leaking into the air from the soil below the structures. DEQ says they’ve found evidence of such leakages.

In 2008, the agency tried to mitigate the contamination.

It got rid of some of the most contaminated soils by using chemicals to break down the groundwater contamination. Is also put in barriers.

DEQ together with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will discuss the status of the vapor intrusion and next steps at a public meeting this week.

Additionally, the agencies may apply for the area to be added to the National Priorities List under the federal superfund law and are looking for public comment.

They say listing the area could open up funding, study and staffing for a complex project like this one. Vapor intrusion was just added to the criteria to qualify for the National Priorities List in the last few years.

The public meeting will be on Thursday, July 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Lewis and Clark Middle School.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.