This story was originally published by Public News Service.
A chemical plume that has so far killed more than 3,500 fish in streams around East Palestine, Ohio, has seeped into the Ohio River, leaving Louisville residents concerned about the safety of their drinking water and triggering shortages of bottled water.
According to the Louisville Water Company, the city draws drinking water from both the Ohio River and groundwater. In nearby Cincinnati, water officials said while no detectable levels of the chemicals have been found, they will shut off Ohio River intake and rely on water reserves for a few days as the plume travels downstream. In Louisville, officials maintain no preventive action is needed.
Craig Greenberg, mayor of Louisville, recently appeared alongside Spencer Bruce, Louisville Water’s CEO, in a social media video to quash fears, and said the city tests its water quality more than 200 times a day.
“We’re aware of online rumors that are circulating, and we wanted to set the record straight, to let you know that your water is safe to drink,” Greenberg stated.
The volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds involved in the disaster are commonly used in the production of lacquers, adhesives, paint thinners and industrial cleaners. Over the weekend, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced FEMA is deploying a senior response official, along with a regional incident management assistance team to the region.
Andrew Whelton, professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, has dealt with chemical spills for more than two decades. He explained when government officials show up and do testing, they do not always test for the right chemicals.
He believes the lack of scientific data available in the aftermath of the Feb. 3 disaster leave many questions unanswered regarding immediate and long-term health risks.
“For this disaster, agencies have been slow to share their testing data,” Whelton observed. “For example, none of the drinking-water-well testing data is posted online. So it’s unclear what officials are testing for.”
So far more than 3,100 cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed from the area of the derailment, and a total of 942,000 gallons of contaminants and contaminated liquid have been removed from the immediate site.