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Ohio River Water Quality on The Chopping Block

Kristy Meyer, August 10, 2018

For the past seven years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has named the Ohio River one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Its waters are crippled by polluted runoff from large-scale agriculture and streetscapes, habitat destruction and alteration, discharges of polluted water from industrialized factories, sewage overflows, and failing septic tanks. As a result, this magnificent watershed suffers from toxic algae, rising mercury levels, and other harmful pollutants, with health complications ranging from blue-baby syndrome to cancer.

Unfortunately, these issues are not new to the watershed. Polluters have long neglected the Ohio River and treated it as a highway and dumping ground. In 2015, a 650-mile toxic algal bloom stretched from Wheeling, West Virginia past Cincinnati, Ohio. Municipalities like Cincinnati spent more than $200,000 in treatment costs. In 2014, a toxic coal-processing chemical spill affected the water supply for more than 300,000 West Virginians and shut down schools, businesses, and local governments.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), a commission developed to protect the Ohio River watershed’s water quality, is looking to eliminate their water quality standards and criteria, mixing zone bans, and wastewater discharge requirements. ORSANCO commissioners claim that the Clean Water Act has succeeded in its purpose and the States have succeeded in restoring water quality in the Ohio River, so the standards are no longer necessary.

The Commissioners forget about the real public health crises that people along the River face every day. Community water systems have detected DuPont’s toxic cancer-causing teflon chemical, known as C8, in drinking water across the Ohio River watershed, including communities in Ohio such as Little Hocking, Belpre, Pomeroy, Tupper Plains. In response, the Ohio Attorney General filed a lawsuit against DuPont to cleanup the toxic chemical so Ohioans have access to clean, safe drinking water and places to boat, swim, and fish.

ORSANCO has the authority to promulgate strong protections for C8 and other similar chemicals, but if it eliminates its Pollution Control Standards, it loses that capability. Similarly, the Pollution Control Standards contain stronger rules covering chemicals like mercury and PCEs, both toxic in high quantities. Ohio’s already existing water quality standards provide less protection than ORSANCO’s.

ORSANCO is soliciting comments until August 20th to determine whether or not they should eliminate their Pollution Control Standards. Make your voice heard by emailing Governor Kasich today.

Every day we wait to restore and protect one of the region’s greatest resources, the problems become more complex and the solutions more costly.