Cincinnati cuts off drinking water from Ohio River due to East Palestine derailment contamination

It is "believed that low levels of butyl acrylate seeped into the Ohio River through a small creek about 300 miles north of Cincinnati," which prompted the water utility service to take the precaution.

The Ohio River's water intake for the city of Cincinnati will close ahead of incoming pollutants from the East Palestine train derailment in a move that the local water utility service says is "out of an abundance of caution."

According to Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), a service provided by the city, Cincinnati's drinking water intake in the river will be closed sometime before the contamination is expected to reach that area of the river by early Sunday morning, a local ABC affiliate reported.

Water intakes are structures used for collecting water from surface waterways such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, and directing it to a water treatment plant where it will be made drinkable. 

GCWW originally estimated that the water contaminated from the Norfolk Southern Railroad chemical spill would make its way to Cincinnati by Monday, but the estimation was shortened due to factors like "wind and water flow speed," reported the outlet. 

Cincinnati is in the far southwestern corner of Ohio, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive across the state from the small village on the northeastern border. 

In a Friday press release from the city, soon after the announcement about closing the intake, it was announced that GCWW has tested approximately 148 water samples at the intake since the February 3 derailment, resulting in no detectable levels of chemicals being found so far. The chemicals tested for were butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and ethylhexyl acrylate.

However, "it is believed that low levels of butyl acrylate seeped into the Ohio River through a small creek about 300 miles north of Cincinnati," which prompted the water utility service to take the precaution.

"Our utility will continue regular sampling for the foreseeable future to ensure a supply of safe and healthy drinking water is available for GCWW customers," the statement added. "GCWW continues to work with federal, state, and regional partners to track the spill, which is expected to arrive in the Cincinnati area sometime early Sunday, February 19. GCWW will optimize its treatment processes and monitor for this chemical to ensure our plant is removing it."

The announcement noted that the time prediction of Sunday morning is subject to change.

According to Jeff Swertfeger, superintendent of water quality treatment at GCWW, the service will be able to draw from its reserves of water for several days while the intakes are closed.

He noted to ABC that it's relatively routine for GCWW to close water intakes at least once per year out of precaution, though the East Palestine situation is the first of its kind in prompting the procedure.

"We want to make absolutely sure the chemical is not there, that we're not bringing in any of it," said Swertfeger, noting that currently, there's "absolutely no danger to the drinking water."

City Manager Sheryl Long echoed Swertfeger's sentiment, saying in a press release: "I understand the concern, and I’m confident that temporarily shutting off the Ohio River intake is the best move. There's zero risk that our water reserves contain contaminants from the train derailment site, and tapping these reserves will give us all peace of mind. I want to thank GCWW, who are truly the best of the best, and state that I have full faith in their decision-making and their ability to keep us safe."

According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the contaminated waters were moving at a rate of roughly one mile per hour as of Tuesday.

On February 10, the Northern Kentucky Water District (NKWD) also announced that it would be closing their water intakes from the Ohio River as "a precautionary measure," reported WLWT 5.

"Maintaining the safety of our community’s drinking water is our highest priority,” said Lindsey Rechtin, president and CEO of NKWD. "The response to this Ohio River spill event thus far has been extraordinary. I cannot express enough gratitude to all NKWD staff for their efforts to ensure that our community’s drinking water supply remains safe and reliable. Moreover, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) has been an incredible partner throughout this event. As a community member, I am grateful to know that the health of my family is safe because of their efforts."

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