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Montana DEQ finds 'forever' chemicals in more than half of sites tested

Montana environmental regulators are establishing more flexible water nutrient measurements that include visuals, also called narrative standards.
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Montana environmental officials tested sites in four cities around the state and found PFAS in more than half.

A new study of industrial “forever” chemicals found in products from firefighting foam to nonstick cookware discovered contamination in more than half of the sites tested.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of chemicals that studies link to cancer in humans along with other negative health effects.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality published a report this month that found that out of more than two dozen sites tested for PFAS, two exceeded the screening limits — one site is near the Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls and another is near the Billings Logan International Airport.

DEQ study author Abbie Ebert said neither of the sites that topped screening levels is connected with public drinking water systems.

“The biggest potential risk to human health is fish consumption in certain areas of the state, and so that is our first next step in monitoring PFAS in our aquatic systems," she said.

Ebert said the state will follow up by testing fish tissue as funding becomes available.

Industrial facilities, wastewater treatment plants and airports are all potential sources of PFAS. The DEQ sampled high and low-risk sites in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Helena.

The Great Falls site near Malmstrom Air Force Base is more than 184 times the screening limit. Ebert says the base is evaluating the contamination and signs have been posted around the spot.

The Billings site is nearly four times the screening threshold and it’s a few miles of the Billings airport, but Ebert says the site needs more study to determine the source definitively.

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