LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A train derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border 10 days ago spilled chemicals into the Ohio River.
On Friday, Feb. 3, approximately 50 cars derailed in a town called East Palestine, Ohio. Reports say the Norfolk Southern train was carrying a variety of products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania.
The Louisville Water Company is monitoring the chemical spill, and a specific chemical called butyl acrylate. Their key message is: the water is safe to drink.
For the past week, research scientists developed ways to treat chemicals that spilled into the Ohio River.
“So we have been working over the past week to develop an effective treatment strategy to make sure that we can treat those chemicals effectively,” said Chris Bobay, a water quality manager with Louisville Water Company.
He said these chemicals the Louisville Water Company is monitoring are well below any published CDC health guidelines.
“What we are seeing is really low levels of a compound called butyl acrylate,” Bobay said. “Butyl acrylate is an ester and esters are known for imparting very strong odors to the water at higher concentrations. The levels we’re seeing, we don’t expect there to be any odor issues. But we have developed a treatment strategy to make sure that we remove the odors if they’re there.”
Bobay said they’re not seeing anything above background level in the Ohio river in the Louisville area and they’ve set up a way to measure butyl acrylate.
“We can detect butyl acrylate as low as .5 parts per billion, but we’re not getting detections currently,” Bobay said.
Almost 300 miles away near the Ohio and West Virginia border at the river, field operators are monitoring the chemical spill plume.
“So what’s encouraging, what’s coming out of the research from this from other from our utility as well as upstream utilities is that conventional water treatment seems to be really effective with this. This ester is easily oxidized with chlorine and most systems are using chlorine for disinfection. We’ve also found really good efficiency, removal efficiency using activated carbon and we plan to use that if needed,” Bobay said.
With the Ohio River being as vast as it is, hopefully, the spill dilutes, making it easy to treat the water.
“There is no public health concern with this spill. The water in Louisville is safe to drink,” Bobay said.
The Louisville Water Company said the chemical butyl acrylate is insoluble and can be volatile, so it has a tendency to float on water.
The company conducts an average of 200 tests daily on drinking water.
According to the AP, West Virginia's water utility says it's taking precautionary steps following the derailment of a train hauling chemicals that later sent up a toxic plume in Ohio. The utility said in a statement on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023 that it has enhanced its treatment processes even though there hasn’t been a change in raw water at its Ohio River intake.