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Greater Cincinnati Water Works said only one chemical from the disaster in East Palestine was detected about 220 miles upstream from Cincinnati, and it would not be enough to harm the health of those who consume tap water.

Water containing hazardous chemicals from the catastrophic train explosion south of Norfolk in East Palestine, Ohio It is expected to reach the Greater Cincinnati area in a few days, according to a statement from the Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW), but officials say CityBeat it won’t be enough to be harmful.

GCWW released a statement online Wednesday, Feb. 15, saying the department tested the water from the Ohio River and “did not detect the presence of any hazardous chemicals involved in the Feb. 3 incident.”

However, an update posted on the GCWW website later that day on February 15 said the agency expects contaminated water to reach the Greater Cincinnati area sometime this weekend.

“GCWW continues to work with federal, state and regional partners to monitor the spill, which is expected to reach the Cincinnati area early next week, around mid-afternoon on Sunday, February 19,” the agency wrote. “This date is subject to change depending on changing river conditions. GCWW will continue to update this information regularly.”

Chemicals from the February 3 disaster in East Palestine include butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and ethyl hexyl acrylate. Chemicals are used in industrial processes, including the production of varnishes, enamels, inks, adhesives, paint thinners and industrial cleaners, as well as in the manufacture of plastics. Colorless vinyl chloride has been associated with an increased risk liver cancer and other types of cancer, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute.

Jeff Swertfeger, chief of water quality for Greater Cincinnati, said only one chemical was detected about 220 miles upriver from Cincinnati, and it would not be enough to harm the health of those who consume tap water.

“One compound called butyl acrylate was found in the Ohio River,” he says CityBeat. “To put things in perspective, the highest level I’ve seen in the river when it first came in was four parts per billion, now the highest levels we see in the river are somewhere between two and three parts per billion. We expect that number to be even lower by the time it reaches us.”

Swertfeger said the GCWW accepts recommendations from Agency for the Registry of Toxic Substances and Diseases (ATSDR), which issued preliminary health advisories on chemicals related to the East Palestine explosion.

“This is the level at which they say this chemical may have potential health effects; they said that level would be 560 parts per billion, so compared to what we’re seeing in the river at its highest peak was four, so we’re well below that health impact level,” he said.

However, Swertfeger said the GCWW is being extra cautious about any level of butyl acrylate in the water supply. The agency plans to close access to the GCWW stockpile once the butyl acrylate reaches the Cincinnati area to allow it to flow through the Ohio River and continue dilution. While access is closed, GCWW will use its reserves to continue water supply to the area, which Swertfeger said will not cause an outage.

GCWW serves 1.1 million customers in parts of Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky, as seen on the map below.

click to enlarge Greater Cincinnati Water Works Service Area Map - Photo: Map from the official City of Cincinnati government website

Greater Cincinnati Water Works Service Area Map

Swertfeger said the water will still be treated with butyl acrylate after the reservoir is reopened.

“We did a lot of lab work over the weekend and this week to look at our treatment process. There’s a lot we can do, there are several healing processes here that will remove it.”

In addition to water, other environmental problems, including air and soil quality, have emerged since the outbreak of the toxic infection.

Residents of eastern Palestine are experiencing skin rashes, nausea, burning eyes and other symptoms after the explosion of toxic materials, and some have begun to meet with scientists and sign up for independent soil and water testing in their homes.

Stay tuned to CityBeat contributor Madeleine Fenning Twitter and Instagram.

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