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Will the West Virginia Chemical Spill Impact Evansville’s Water Supply?

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A statement from Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s office

The Evansville Water & Sewer Utility (EWSU) has been closely monitoring the impact and issues stemming from the chemical spill, which occurred in Charleston, West Virginia, last week – 700 river miles from Evansville. EWSU is obtaining regular updates and information from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), the Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).

The exact time when the chemical plume will reach the Evansville area – and the concentration level – is yet to be determined, as it is dependent upon several factors, including the flow rate (miles per hour) and rain events. The river levels between the dams along the Ohio River will affect its arrival; although, it is estimated to reach our area by the weekend, according to the Coast Guard.

EWSU will examine two key issues as the plume nears our City:

  1. The concentration of the chemical in the Ohio River – The Utility uses monitoring systems – gas chromatograph (GC) at its intake building and gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GCMS) in the water plant lab. Those systems are used to determine if any of the chemical is detectable at our location.
  2. Whether the chemical floats on the surface, mixes completely or sinks – The City’s water intake pumps pull water at a depth of several feet from the river bottom. The dilution effect at the Ohio River will have a large bearing on the level of detection in Evansville.

The contaminants from this spill are being monitored at several points along the Ohio River, including Huntington, W. Va.; Ashland, Ky.; Maysville, Ky.; Portsmouth, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky. EWSU receives concentration reports from each location. A report yesterday showed a concentration of 36 parts per billion (ppb) at Huntington, W. Va. The Evansville Water Utility will use carbon treatment if any level of the chemical is detected. This method of treatment has been used effectively by other water utilities affected by this chemical spill. Also, this particular chemical omits a sweet odor even at very low concentrations. The carbon treatment will help minimize an odor that might be present.

The Utility will conduct routine tests on the intake water daily, as usual; however, the organic components will be more closely watched. The Utility is planning to apply its activated carbon mixture material to all intake water, which will act to absorb any organic contaminants in the river water. Additionally, the Utility will look at the GC and GCMS readouts for 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) contamination.

The Evansville Water & Sewer Utility is a member of ORSANCO and coordinates monitoring and policy matters with and through that organization. EWSU’s equipment is tied with ORSANCO’s monitoring system via the Internet, enabling the Utility to draw from ORSANCO’s expertise in reading scans and making determinations regarding questionable components that may be observed in the intake water. EWSU is in constant contact with ORSANCO and the Coast Guard on any spills that occur along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, Pa, to Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio River discharges into the Mississippi River.

We will continue to keep the community informed as we learn more about the spill’s impact to Evansville’s water supply.

Lloyd Winnecke, Mayor City of Evansville

Allen Mounts, Executive Director Evansville Water and Sewer Utility

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