Louisville Water says no threat to drinking water after chemicals spill into the Ohio River

Louisville Water says no threat to drinking water after chemicals spill into the Ohio River
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 11:20 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A train derailment in Northeastern Ohio has released chemicals into the Ohio River.

The train derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, which is near the Pennsylvania state line.

20 of the train’s cars were carrying hazardous materials, some of which were released into the Ohio River.

People in the area were evacuated when the hazardous materials were released into the air and into the river. As those chemicals travel downstream, Louisville Water is focusing on one in particular.

Louisville Water is working with its interstate partners to understand the impacts of the spill. For now, they say there’s no threat to the drinking water in Louisville.

“We have an extensive monitoring network for organics detection in the Ohio River at various points all along the river basin, and that network is detecting the low level of chemicals associated with the release of the train derailment,” Louisville Water Quality Manager Chris Bobay said.

Bobay said the chemical levels are well below any published CDC health guidelines, but even low levels can alter the taste and smell of the water.

The chemical released into the air after the derailment was “Vinyl Chloride,” which is used in many plastic products. But Bobay said there’s been no detection of Vinyl Chloride in the water.

What they are seeing is a compound called “Butyl acrylate.”

“Butyl Acrylate is an ester, and esters are known for imparting very strong odors to the water at higher concentrations,” Bobay said. “The levels we’re seeing, we don’t expect to see any odor issues. But we have developed a treatment strategy to make sure that we remove the odors if they’re there.”

At low levels, the odor is floral or fruity. At high levels, it can smell like fresh paint.

Bobay said there has been some upriver detection of other compounds, but Butyl Acrylate is their main focus right now.

“One of the first things that we did was get with toxicology experts to understand the risk screening levels associated with Butyl Acrylate. And I can just tell you that the levels in the river that we’re seeing are hundreds of times lower than any public health risk screening for human toxicology,” Bobay said.

Louisville Water is preparing to treat for Butyl Acrylate, even if it never makes it to Louisville.

“So once this spill gets into our pool, the McAlpine pool,” Bobay said. “Then we’ll actually send our field team up to try and quantify the levels. I do expect that they continue to drop, they’re already dropping pretty significantly to where we probably won’t see this at all or be able to detect it.”

Bobay said the spill plume is still a long way off from reaching Louisville.

There have been detections in the upper basin, which is the first couple hundred miles of the river. For reference, Louisville is at mile marker 600.

”There are threats every day that we have to prepare for,” Bobay said. “So this is no different. We have a really solid research team here, a really solid water quality team that works tirelessly to make sure that our drinking water is safe.”