Whitefish River Diesel Sheen
Removal Action

United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 July 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing a removal action in Whitefish, Mon-
tana to address fuel con tamination in the sediments of the Whitefish River. Phase III of the removal
work will be conducted from late July 2011 through summer 2012. Crews will work as far down the
river as weather will permit this year, possibly to Riverside Park. Work will continue next year to
Spokane Ave. During this time, the pedestrian/bike trail will be closed from the railroad trestle to Miles
Ave., and periodically from the 2nd Street Bridge to Kay Beller Park. The river will be closed to all
boating and recreational activities from the BNSF railyard to just downstream of the dredging activi-
ties. The length of the closed segment of river will increase as the dredging activities move down-

The Problem

Sediments in some areas along the Whitefish
River contain petroleum products, namely diesel
fuel and heavier oils. Some of the petroleum
originated at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe
(BNSF) railroad facility. River water carried the
petroleum along an approximately two-mile
stretch of the Whitefish River, depositing the
fuel products into sediments along the way. Ex-
posure to petroleum products can be harmful to
human health and the environment.

The Plan

This is Phase III of the Whitefish River Diesel
Sheen Removal Action, which is being con-
ducted under the authority of the Oil Pollution
Act. Phase I lasted from September 2009 to
January 2010 and focused on the removal of pe-
troleum-containing sediments adjacent to the
BNSF facility. Phase II was conducted from
July 2010 through January 2011 in a small area
above the BNSF property and also below the
BNSF property to the 2nd Street Bridge. BNSF
is conducting all phases of the removal work
with EPA oversight.

Phase III will be conducted from late July 2011
through summer 2012. The removal technique
planned for this year will be different than the
one employed the last two years near the BNSF

property. The previous technique involved re-
moving petroleum-containing sediments by first
draining sections of the river using portable
dams and pipes. This year, BNSF will be using
a floating hydraulic dredge. A hydraulic dredge
is essentially a river barge with machinery fitted
to vacuum the sediment from the river bottom
without draining a section of river. EPA and
BNSF anticipate this technique will be less im-
pactful and will minimize disturbance to the riv-
erbank. Once the petroleum-containing sedi-
ments are removed, they will be slurried through
a pipe to the BNSF property, dried and disposed
of via railcars to a certified landfill. The river-
bed will be regraded to approximate pre-removal
shape and slope. This removal technique will be
conducted almost entirely in the public domain,
below the low water mark in the river. EPA and
BNSF anticipate very little disturbance to the

The Background

In 2007, based on reported sightings, EPA inves-
tigated a petroleum sheen on the Whitefish River
in multiple locations. Crews mobilized at the
site twice that year to collect data, including wa-
ter and sediment samples. The samples were
analyzed for Diesel-Range Organics, Semi-
Volatile Organics, and other related compounds.
Another phase of field sampling occurred in

2008 to identify potential sources of the petroleum
and to further define the location of petroleum-
containing sediment areas along the river.

Overall, these investigations indicated that the pe-
troleum in the river is predominantly in areas of

Questions and Answers

high sedimentation. Investigations suggest that the
source of some of the petroleum is likely from
past releases and spills from the BNSF facility
into the Whitefish River.

	Is the whole river affected?

The exact boundaries are not perfectly defined, but at this point it appears the petrloleum-
containing sediment exists at various locations along the river from the BNSF fueling facility south
through the town of Whitefish for about two miles.

	How did this happen?

Our investigations indicate that past releases from the BNSF fueling facility led to the fuel enter-
ing the river.

	Why is EPA doing this now?

EPA was alerted to this problem in 2007. EPA immediately conducted three site investigations and
concluded that under the Oil Pollution Act a removal action was warranted. In 2009, BNSF began
addressing petroleum-containing sediments near the BNSF facility. BNSF continued with this
work in 2010. This year, BNSF will pick up where they left off last year, just below the 2nd Street
Bridge, and work downstream toward Spokane Ave.

	Are people at risk who use the river to fish or swim?

Petroleum products can pose a risk to human health in the environment.

	Has anyone been drinking this water? If so, could they be at risk?

The Whitefish River is not used as a drinking water source, only for irrigation and recreation. The
city of Whitefish receives its drinking water from reservoirs located in the mountain drainages
above the city.

	How will EPA clean this up?

We will address this problem by removing the affected sediments in the river and restoring the
river channel and banks to their pre-removal conditions.

	How long will the cleanup take?

This phase of the work will be conducted from late July 2011 through summer 2012. The entire
cleanup project began in 2009 and will likely conclude in 2012 or 2013.

	Who is paying for this? BNSF is paying for this cleanup.

For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Chergo, Office of Communication and Public Involvement
U.S. EPA, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202
(303) 312-6601 /1-800-227-8917, ext. 3126601 /chergo.jennifer@ epa.gov
Or visit the Whitefish River Removal Action Website at: