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EPA collects final samples from a Billings superfund site

 Rochele Wilson holds her cat Thomas in her home on February 2, 2023.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Rochele Wilson holds her cat Thomas in her home on February 2, 2023. Her house is in the epicenter of a contaminated plume in Billings and is one of the sites where the EPA collected samples.

Environmental regulators are in Billings this month wrapping up testing within a plume of groundwater contamination from nearby dry cleaning operations.

The contamination covers a 855-acre area in east and southeast Billings and has been traced back to businesses that operated in the city through the 80s, like Big Sky Linen.

Samples are being taken from homes and commercial properties in the area, which was declared a federal superfund site in 2021.

On a recent weekday morning, workers funneled a long hose from a mobile lab parked outside through the front door of a house located near the center of the plume.

They were looking for vapor from dry cleaning chemicals like tetrachloroethylene, which the EPA ties to health effects like cancer and respiratory issues.

Homeowner Rochele Wilson has lived in this house for nearly three decades.

“Before it was kind of just like ‘the water’s bad, don’t use it,’” Wilson said. “I didn’t know it was to this extent, and then I looked it up online. It’s three miles of this.”

The EPA will install individual mitigation systems where workers find contamination: nine of the sampled sites require them, three of them within a square block of Wilson’s house.

Roger Hoogerheide with the EPA says the agency will draft a report on area-wide cleanup possibilities this summer. He says the study will inform a final decision to be announced next year.

Residents can find the contact information for Hoogerheide and other information about the superfund site on the EPA website.

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