West Virginia Emergency Management Division: Cities move to alternate water supplies after chemicals from trail derailment detected in Ohio River

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On the evening of February 3, 2023, the West Virginia Emergency Management Division (WVEMD) Watch Center was notified of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Upon notification, WVEMD activated the State Emergency Operations Plan, alerting state agencies and local emergency managers of the incident.

Since the initial notification, and at the governor’s direction, WVEMD, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) and the Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR) have closely monitored the situation for any impacts to West Virginia or its citizens.

Low levels of butyl acrylate reached the Ohio River through Little Beaver Creek, a small tributary located near the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. Upon learning of the spill, the WVDHHR’s Bureau for Public Health (BPH) immediately began contacting the five water systems along the Ohio River that could be impacted and recommended, out of an abundance of caution, to shut down all water intakes until additional information could be obtained. The Weirton PSD detected chemicals at their intake and the water source was quickly switched to an alternate supply out of an abundance of caution.

As the state agency charged with regulating drinking water safety, WVDHHR remains in close contact with all water systems in the state who source water from the Ohio River. Water sampling is ongoing and recent results have been non-detect for butyl acrylate in both the raw and finished water supplies. Water sampling will continue.

In addition, WVDEP is working with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA on monitoring and tracking the chemical as it moves down the Ohio River.

As of Monday at 3 pm, the chemical plume was confirmed in the Ohio River at mile marker 199, approximately 22 miles upstream of Ravenswood and traveling at 1 mph. It is estimated that it is currently near the Ravenswood area.

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed Provisional Health Guidance Values for drinking water. The current detections in the river are well below the ATSDR health values and decreasing as the plume travels.

Testing is being conducted approximately seven miles above the water intake for the City of Huntington. Additionally, West Virginia American Water is implementing an alternate water intake that pulls from the Guyandotte River as a precautionary measure.

The WVDEP is coordinating with ORSANCO to continue daily monitoring of multiple sites along the Ohio River.

The WVDEP is also in contact with the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA regarding air quality monitoring. The U.S. EPA has conducted continuous air monitoring along the perimeter of the train derailment site in Ohio and has not detected any concentrations of contaminants above screening levels. WVDEP air monitoring stations located in the northern panhandle have not detected any impacts to air quality stemming from the derailment.

“EMD will continue 24/7 monitoring through the duration of this incident, notifying officials of any change to the situation,” said Dr. Matt Blackwood, EMD Deputy Director. “I’m proud that our team in the Justice Administration works together to immediately implement measures needed to protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

West Virginians with questions or concerns regarding water quality should contact the water utility serving their household. Please report any environmental issues, regardless of their cause, to the statewide spill line at 1-800-642-3074.

Please note that the water issues occurring in East Palestine and Fort Gay are not related as they are on separate water supplies being the Ohio River and Big Sandy River.

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