MISSOULA — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is expanding its recommendation to not eat any fish from the Clark Fork River below Missoula, saying there are too many pollutants for safe consumption.
FWP and other state agencies issued recommendations seven years ago telling people it was best not to eat northern pike and limit meals of rainbow trout from the Clark Fork River in the areas immediately downstream from the old Smurfit Stone mill site.
Now, based on new test results, that advisory is expanding to include all fish species, for a 148-mile stretch from the Bitterroot confluence below Missoula, all the way to the Flathead River at Paradise.
"When the mill was originally, you know, shut down and proposed for listing -- I should say, we did some sampling back in 2013 -- it was just in this the site surrounding Frenchtown essentially," FWP Fisheries Pollution Biologist Trevor Selch said.
"With the new results, we’re at kind of and avoid advisory for Northern Pike and rainbow trout. And because we didn't sample other species -- but they're you know they're in the same area, they're eating similar food and have similar life histories. And we decided to just extend that for now to all those species within this area," Slech added.
Local and tribal government leaders, conservation groups and residents have pressed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for several years over Smurfit Stone contaminants getting into the river -- especially if the old berms are breached by a flood.
Selch says Friday's order isn't tied to a single source but the state feels the precaution is the best step.
“None of this source assessment has been done yet. We don't know exactly where all these contaminants are coming from. Obviously, we're looking for stuff that's consistent with the pulp and paper mill operations," Selch told MTN News.
"But at this time, you know, the fish consumption guidance is basically just saying, here's what we found in the fish, and you know, here's what we recommend for consumption," Selch added.
The standards are based on the build up of contaminants in the tissues of the fish and in humans over a lifetime of consumption. Biologists admit that the standards are conservative, but they say because more research is needed, the healthiest approach is to not eat fish from this stretch of the river.
“Unfortunately with the concentrations in the pike and rainbow trout now, we're not recommending any consumption of those fish it within those within those areas," Selch concluded.
State officials say at high levels of exposure, the contaminants found in the fish have been linked to impacts on human immune and nervous systems and even birth defects. Additionally, the PCBs and dioxins are known to be carcinogens for humans with prolonged exposure.