Utilities in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky shut Ohio River water intake valves early Sunday morning over concerns about contamination by hazardous materials from a train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.
The two utilities, Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) and Northern Kentucky Water District (NKWD), said they are taking precautions as testing found at least low levels of chemicals from the toxic spill in some places at intakes along the waterway amid reports of fish dying en masse in local waterways and East Palestine residents reporting ailments such as headaches and rashes.
After the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment on February 3, crews executed what authorities said was a controlled burn of hazardous chemicals from cars that were in danger of exploding, prompting temporary evacuations and a large plume of smoke over the small town on the Pennsylvania border.
“Emergency responders were able to quickly respond and contain most of the chemicals,” NKWD said in a press release. NKWD said one of the chemicals, butyl acrylate, “was detected at low levels in the Ohio River far upstream of our water supply intakes.”
Butyl acrylate “is a clear liquid with a sweet odor used in arts and crafts, adhesives, flooring, sinks, bathtubs, to name just a few of the uses of the chemical,” NKWD said.
GCWW said low levels of butyl acrylate were believed to have “seeped” into the Ohio River through a small creek about 300 miles north of Cincinnati.
By Sunday afternoon, GCWW reported “2-Ethyl-1-hexanol was detected. This compound is commonly used in industrial applications including for flavorings and fragrances.”
BREAKING: Greater Cincinnati Water Works is keeping its intake CLOSED after reportedly detecting a compound upstream.
“2-Ethyl-1-hexanol was detected. This compound is commonly used in industrial applications including for flavorings and fragrances.”
FULL RELEASE⬇️ @WLWT pic.twitter.com/b0U3Qqu2sA
— Danielle Dindak (@danielledindak) February 19, 2023
NKWD and GCWW, each of which reportedly serve hundreds of thousands of customers, said they will continue testing in coordination with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and assured the public they have treatment processes in place. The utilities said they will rely on reserves until regulators are certain water from the Ohio River is safe.
Norfolk Southern says it is working with local, state, and federal leaders and the community affected by the derailment in East Palestine. That hasn’t stopped a number of lawsuits to accumulate as outrage grows, spurred in part by videos of showing an oily sheen from chemicals in local waterways.
Visited a local creek in East Palestine today. These waterways are still very polluted. It’s time for Norfolk Southern to finish the cleanup. Check this video out: pic.twitter.com/4lsHBmrMJj
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) February 16, 2023
After the fire went out on February 8, the Environment Protection Agency said on Tuesday its air monitoring had “not detected any levels of health concern in the community that are attributed to the train derailment.”
Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine’s office said Friday testing results from East Palestine’s municipal water source determined that municipal drinking water is safe to drink, but urged locals who get their water from private wells to use bottled water until their water is tested.
Also on Friday, DeWine released a joint statement with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Regional Administrator Thomas Sivak, announcing FEMA aid would be on the way after the Biden administration indicated the train derailment did not qualify for federal disaster aid.
“FEMA and the State of Ohio have been in constant contact regarding emergency operations in East Palestine,” the joint statement said. “U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA have been working together since day one. Tomorrow, FEMA will supplement federal efforts by deploying a Senior Response Official along with a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long-term recovery needs.”