CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and a legislative committee all provided updates Thursday on potential environmental impacts on West Virginia communities along the Ohio River due to a chemical leak from a train derailment in eastern Ohio.
A 50-car train derailment last week near East Palestine, Ohio, caused a hazardous chemical leak from some of the train cars. The train was owned by Norfolk Southern.
According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, low levels of butyl acrylate — which is used to manufacture plastics and resins — reached the Ohio River through Little Beaver Creek, a small tributary located near the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. The plume has traveled nearly the entirety of West Virginia’s border with Ohio, with the plume expected to reach Huntington by this evening or Saturday morning.
According to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, a multi-state coalition that monitors the water quality and health of the Ohio River, the amount of chemicals from the leak are far below risk guidance numbers of 560 parts per billion for drinking water, with levels detected at two parts per billion. But communities along the Ohio River are still taking precautions and monitoring the plume.
In Huntington, West Virginia American Water finished an alternative intake to temporarily use water from the Guyandotte River, installing pumping equipment and running more than 3,700 feet of pipe to connect the new intake to the Huntington Water Treatment Plant. West Virginia American Water serves more than 587,000 customers across the state, but the Huntington Water Treatment Plant serves Cabell and Wayne counties.
The House Technology and Infrastructure Committee heard a presentation Thursday afternoon from officials with West Virginia American Water and the state Department of Environmental Protection on the potential effects of the East Palestine train derailment and chemical leak on West Virginia.
West Virginia American Water President Robert Burton told committee members that the rainfall Thursday and Friday would help dilute the chemical plume plus also increase the speed of the flow of the Ohio River, helping further dilute the plume and move quickly further down the river.
DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Mandirola also joined Justice on his virtual administration briefing Thursday to brief residents on the state’s response to the East Palestine chemical leak. Justice said the state Division of Emergency Management and the West Virginia National Guard, the DEP, and others have provided assistance to Ohio.
Mandirola said the DEP has been coordinating with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio Environment Protection Agency, and the U.S. EPA on monitoring the chemical plume, with tests conducted Wednesday between Parkersburg and Ravenswood. He said the plume was passing Point Pleasant on Thursday.
“The highest concentration observed Wednesday was below the three parts per billion,” Mandirola said. “The influx of water from the Kanawha River should add at least 25% additional dilution on top of the dilution added from the current rain event which will be helpful as this moves downstream.”
Mandirola also said that air monitoring at the site of the East Palestine derailment has not detected any concentrations of contaminants above health advisory levels. DEP air monitoring stations in the Northern Panhandle have also not detected any impacts on air quality linked to the derailment.
Speaking during a virtual briefing from Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon, Capito, R-W.Va., the ranking Republican member of the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee and a long-time member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Capito said Congress would likely be investigating the accident soon through multiple committees.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leveled criticism at EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for their handling of the disaster.
“While I am glad EPA Administrator Regan will visit the site (Thursday), it is unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior Administration official to show up,” Manchin said.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va, tweeted that he was monitoring the situation.