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Researchers test a Crow Nation river for PFAS and other chemicals

Olivia Reingold
Yellowstone Public Radio

Scientists are sampling public water sources nationwide to test for what they call “forever chemicals,” which they estimate can be found in nearly half of the country’s tap water.

The U.S. Geological Survey this summer wrapped up sampling in a study testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other contaminants in the Little BigHorn River.

USGS collaborated with Crow tribal member and Little Big Horn College Water Quality Project Director John Doyle, who has spent decades working to address water quality issues and environmental health on the Crow Nation and along the Little BigHorn river.

“It's our drinking water... It's agriculture, irrigation. It's recreation. People swim in it, fish in it and hunt along its banks,” said Doyle. “But it's also used for many of our traditional ceremonies and uses.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS is a family of manufactured chemicals that in humans may, alongside other possible health effects, increase the risk of cancer and cause developmental delays in children.

Testing also includes a range of other chemicals like pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Although Doyle says he hopes none will be found, he is concerned about impacts from wastewater treatment and other activity upstream.

“It could be any number of things because there’s a lot of stuff that goes into the Little BigHorn River that we don’t know about,” said Doyle.

Analysis of the USGS data is still ongoing.

“My hopes and dreams are that we're able to completely restore the Little Bighorn River to the state where we can drink it and feel good about it.”

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