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Montana Town Cleared to Drink Water After Oil Spill

Tests found the cancer-causing agent benzene was at safe levels in Glendive, six days after an oil spill forced residents to rely on bottled water.

Montana state officials on Friday said tap water in the town of Glendive is now safe to drink, six days after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Yellowstone River.

State health officials had said Thursday that the water serving the town of 6,000 in the eastern part of the state, was no longer showing elevated levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical found in oil, but were waiting on tests to confirm the finding. The oil spilled into the Yellowstone River on Jan. 17 after the decades-old Poplar Pipeline ruptured.

Bottled water was trucked into the town for days while workers tried to clear up the spill beneath the ice of the frozen river. Residents were told the water was safe to bathe in, but not to drink or use for cooking. Officials detected levels of benzene in drinking water that was three times the acceptable limit. By Friday, the officials said it was back to safe levels.

Some first noticed there was something amiss Sunday after their dogs refused to drink their water and began furiously eating snow. Resident Roseann Koepke, 65, to9ld The Associated Press that she ran the taps in her trailer home Thursday after her landlord told her the contamination had been cleared. But she turned off the water after the strong smell of oil gave her a headache.

"I ran it for about ten minutes and had to open up the door for five minutes to get the smell out," she said. "My God, did I end up getting a headache."

The company that owns the pipeline, Bridger Pipeline LLC, said the new line would be buried deeper to prevent future accidents.


— Phil Helsel

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report