Press Release

Memorandum: Proposed Revisions to ORSANCO’s Pollution Control Standards

Aryeh Alex, May 22, 2019

The Ohio River supplies more than 5 million people with drinking water, and 10 percent of the U.S. population with jobs and recreational opportunities. At a time when the nation will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the last fire on the Cuyahoga River that sparked the Clean Water Act, the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) will be voting on proposed revisions to its Pollution Control Standards.

In June, the commissioners will vote on changes that would cause the Pollution Control Standards to be voluntary, rather than mandatory. ORSANCO commissioners argue that the Standards are redundant with federally approved state programs designed to protect the Ohio River. However, consider the following counterpoints:
  • The Standards regulate pollutants unregulated by state agencies. Example: Ohio EPA’s Ohio River water quality standard lack criteria for ammonia and methylmercury, two pollutants regulated under ORSANCO’s Standards. These two pollutants can cause a range of serious health impacts like seizures, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy.

  • The Standards regulate many pollutants with more stringent criteria than the regulations promulgated by state environmental agencies. Example: The Ohio EPA regulates dioxin at 0.13 picograms per liter, while the ORSANCO Standards limits Dioxin to 0.005 picograms per liter.

  • Upstream states that may not adopt the Standards, like Kentucky and West Virginia, can choose to adopt different numeric criteria from Ohio, potentially putting Ohioans’ drinking water at risk and increasing drinking water treatment costs. Therefore, if ORSANCO chooses to adopt the voluntary rule package, it should require states to affirmatively state, with scientific reasoning, why it is choosing not to adopt the ORSANCO Pollution Control Standards.

The Ohio Environmental Council and its partners oppose these modifications. The Commissioners should vote against the amendments and instead work with its state partners to consolidate all development of water quality standards for the Ohio River within ORSANCO, rather than continue an approach that fragments pollution regulation amongst the member states.

In addition to opposing the switch to voluntary standards, we believe ORSANCO should implement more transparent practices regarding its Pollution Control Standards and discharge permit review. Additionally, it should consider implementing a clear mechanism through which the public can propose emerging contaminants for inclusion in the Pollution Control Standards.