Toxic W. Va. chemical plume to hit Evansville on Monday

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Remnants of a toxic chemical spill from more than 600 river miles away in West Virginia are tentatively expected to arrive in Evansville via the Ohio River Monday morning.

Water Utility officials here, though, remain confident the chemical will be mostly diluted by then.

The chemical, called MCHM or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is used to wash coal. Cincinnati officials closed Ohio River intake valves into that city’s water system as a precautionary measure. Louisville, further downstream, has chosen not to do that, believing the chemical is diluting and remaining pollutants from the spill can be removed by the city’s treatment system.

That’s also the stance Evansville Utility officials are taking. Evansville, like Louisville, plans to use activated carbon at its treatment plant to remove any remaining HCHM and odor it carries.

The chemical smells like licorice, said Jerry Schulte, manager of source water protection and emergency response with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). In Cincinnati, the odor was detectable at low levels.

“It took roughly 22 hours for the plume to pass Cincinnati,” Schulte said. “That’s how long it was.”

As the plume moves through Louisville on Friday, ORSANCO will get new estimates on its size and test the chemical’s presence in the river.

Evansville Water & Sewer Utility Director Allen Mounts said the city remains confident the city’s water will remain safe to drink, but officials remain in contract with ORSACO and Ohio River communities further upstream.

Schulte said plume’s current projected arrival time for Evansville about 3 a.m. Monday, is subject to change, based on the constantly updated information. He agreed with Mounts that the chemical will continue to dilute, due in part the numerous tributaries along the Ohio north and east of Evansville.

“The farther it goes downstream, the more diluted it’s going to become,” Schulte said.

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