SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer HELENA
The Montana fish and wildlife department plans sampling to check for Polychlorinated biphenyls contamination in a buried concrete aquarium, and soil surrounding it, at a state fish hatchery where PCB concerns brought orders to kill about 1 million fish in 2004. A decision to collect samples at the Big Springs Trout Hatchery southeast of Lewistown and analyze them for PCBs, a chemical compound and probable carcinogen, was signed Wednesday by Bob Snyder, chief of the hatcheries bureau in the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The department is awaiting final a p p r o v a l f r om t h e U. S . Environmental Protection Agency. Big Springs is Montana's largest cold-water fish hatchery and annually produces about 1.2 million fish: rainbow trout, brown trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon. Hatchery fish are placed in Montana waters for anglers. The obsolete, concrete aquarium that officials say probably has PCB-laced paint is targeted for removal and has not been used in decades. Work at its site will not affect hatchery operations, Snyder said. The site is scenic and next to a park, however, and some Lewistown residents have expressed concern about the visual impact. "It's our intent to get in there, do the work that needs to be done and then restore the area to its current appearance," Snyder said. He said the cost of the work, which he hopes will be done later this year, has not been determined. Bids will be Sought and money from sportsmen's licenses will be used to pay the bills, he said. The aquarium project examined in an environmental assessment is part of a multiyear effort to deal with PCB contamination at the hatchery. Cleanup began in 2004, years after tainted fish were found in Big Spring Creek, which flows through the hatchery. The EPA has said that PCBs probably are carcinogenic in humans. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers before a congressional ban in 1977. They bind to soil, stick to sediment in streams and accumulate in fish. Consumption of contaminated fish is one source of human exposure. Contamination at the hatchery has included PCBs in paint on the walls of raceways, the channels where fish swim. Fish production is back to normal following the concerns that led Fish, Wildlife & Parks to destroy fish five years ago and clean the raceways, Snyder said. Disposal of contaminated soil from the aquarium site would depend on the PCB level. Relatively low concentrations would allow disposal in a municipal landfill, such as one near Great Falls. Higher concentrations would require use of a landfill approved for toxic substances. Such landfills exist in Idaho, Utah and Oregon but not in Montana. The remaining hatchery work for which plans must be made includes cleansing the contaminated surfaces of some buildings, said Snyder, who does not expect that work to occur before 2010. Dredging to remove paint chips from Big Spring Creek is under consideration, he said.