The Gardiner-Park County Water and Sewer District is suing Yellowstone National Park over arsenic levels in its sewage treatment system.
This summer, we reported the drinking water supply at Old Faithful had “noncompliant” levels of arsenic. Although the levels reported there were “barely” out of compliance with federal standards, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated the Park come up with a new plan to clean up their water supply.
For context: EPA arsenic standards permit 0.010 milligrams per liter, or 10 parts per billion; Old Faithful’s drinking water arsenic concentration was 11 parts per billion.
According to the Billings Gazette, outside Old Faithful, Yellowstone has acknowledged potential problems with arsenic contamination, offering to help Gardiner with sludge removal. The current lawsuit comes after perceived “feet dragging” on the part of Yellowstone and the National Park Service.
The lawsuit (which also names the NPS and other entities) was filed in U.S. District Court in Billings Wednesday. From the Gazette:
The suit, filed by Bozeman attorney Todd Shea on behalf of the district, seeks an order that the Park Service address the “high level of arsenic infiltration” into its sewage treatment plant; for the agency to pay for the district’s sludge removal project in proportion with the Park Service’s responsibility for arsenic levels; for the Park Service to monitor its sewage lines and report quarterly to the district; and other damages.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial.
The case is assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan.
Shea did not return calls seeking comment.
Morgan Warthin, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone Park, said Thursday that the solicitor’s office in the U.S. Department of the Interior is reviewing the lawsuit.
Although almost all of the arsenic entering the district’s sewage treatment system is from the park, arsenic levels in the district’s and the park’s drinking water are below standards, the complaint said.
Arsenic is an odorless, tasteless semi-metal element. It can cause stomach pain, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Arsenic also is often a natural byproduct of geology, the EPA said.
Per the Gazette, Gardiner started having arsenic problems with its sewage in 2015. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality advised the district remove sludge and replace liners for its treatment ponds. February 2015, the district’s engineer said high levels of arsenic were present in the treatment plant and pinpointed their source somewhere in Yellowstone. The engineer added the Yellowstone source was not wastewater; possibly, the arsenic could be coming from leaky pipes or manholes.
The district penned a letter to the Park Service in March 2015, which went unanswered. The NPS also declined to answer a follow-up letter sent in December 2015. From the Gazette:
The district sent the Park Service a third letter, in August 2016, requesting a written response on how it intended to address the problem.
The district received a response in September “without any commitments from the Park Service,” the complaint said. The agency also confirmed that the infiltration problems were “accurate and continuing,” the suit said.
“Despite this acknowledgment, the Park Service’s response advised the District that funding to repair the infiltration problem would likely not be received until sometime in 2020,” the suit said.
The Park Service also acknowledged that it was responsible for contributing to the costs of the sludge removal and liner replacement, the complaint continued.
“However, the Park Service’s response provided very little information as to when the Park Service’s contribution would be available and, moreover, indicated that it may not be within the next five years,” the complaint said.
A fourth letter sent in November by the district to the Park Service sought a specific written report on its plan to correct the problem.
“The Park Service did not provide a substantive response to this request,” the suit said.