UPDATE: 2/16/2023, 4:03 p.m.
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — As of 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16, the butyl acrylate chemical plume in the Ohio River is now near Point Pleasant and the mouth of the Kanawha River, according to the West Virginia Emergency Management Division.
The highest observed concentrations of the chemical were below three parts per billion, which is below the provisional health guidance value for drinking water of 560 parts per billion set by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). WVEMD said the water coming in from the Kanawha River coupled with recent heavy rainfall should increase the dilution of the chemical by more than 25%.
“There have been no confirmed contaminants in the finished drinking water from this spill in any water system in West Virginia. There are currently no water advisories issued at this time related to this spill,” the WVEMD said in a Thursday morning release.
ORIGINAL: 2/14/2023, 5:26 p.m.
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Following a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio nearly two weeks ago, West Virginians are wondering if they should be concerned about the toxic chemicals it was carrying.
As of right now, that answer seems to be “No,” at least according to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. WVDEP Deputy Cabinet Secretary Scott Mandirola spoke to 12 News on Tuesday about what the department has observed following a chemical burn-off on Feb. 6.
“West Virginia DEP also has a Division of Air Quality, and we have two air monitors in the northern part of the state, both of which we’ve been monitoring very closely, neither of which are showing any indication of issues associated with the derailment. So, from an air toxics perspective, I don’t really think there’s anything to worry about,” Mandirola said.
Mandirola did say that Butyl Acrylate, one of the chemicals from the train, has been identified in the Ohio River south of Parkersburg, West Virginia, but levels are well below provisional safety guidelines set by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
According to Mandirola, the last known location of the chemical was at Hockingport, Ohio, about 15 miles downstream of Parkersburg, and the highest measured concentration of Butyl Acrylate in the water so far was 12 parts per billion.
“The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has come out with a provisional health guidance value for this chemical, and that number is 560 parts per billion. So from that perspective, according to the ATSDR, there shouldn’t be that much to worry about. With the levels we’re seeing, as I said, the highest level’s been 12. That was at the Weirton intake, and it has been decreasing as it travels downstream, picking up additional dilution,” Mandirola said.
Mandirola also said that the chemical is traveling at about one mile an hour, and is expected to reach Huntington at around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday. West Virginia American Water, a water company in Huntington, said they are installing a second intake in the Guyandotte River in case they need an alternate water source.
When it comes to air quality and potential health risks to West Virginians, WVU associate professor of the School of Public Health Dr. Michael McCawley said north central West Virginia should be in the clear, as air pollutants disperse exponentially the farther away you get from the origin. However, the concentration of the chemicals involved can be a large factor when considering any potential health risks.
“The pollution smoke is essentially dissipating in the air as it travels. So being 60 or 70 miles away is a really good thing because there’s going to be a lot of dilution in that distance and dilution is what you want to see because [the] lower the concentration, the lower your risk,” McCawley.
McCowley is an expert on how chemicals in the air can affect public health and has been a faculty member at WVU for more than 40 years. He worked at U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for nearly 30 years as an industrial hygenist, where he designed and implemented health assessment plans for disasters like the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 and the Kuwait oil fires of 1991.
McCawley said that while the chemicals on the train have been identified, the fire they were burned off with would have changed those chemicals into something else entirely, something that might be better (or worse) to be exposed to. “It’s hard to say in these types of situations,” he said.
McCawley also remarked that West Virginia is not a flat area, and its hilly geography may create pockets of harmful pollutants if enough of it travels over the area.
“We have hollers, we have valleys, we have places that trap air with the kind of weather patterns that go on in this area. And so if you move those gases and some of the particles into those small spaces where the air doesn’t move around and get very diluted you can have some buildup of concentration down in some of the hollers and the valleys. And that’s not a good thing.”
The West Virginia Emergency Management Division (WVEMD) said it will be monitoring the situation 24/7 for the duration of the incident. Any West Virginians who have questions or concerns about their water quality should contact the water utility serving their household, and any environmental issues, regardless of the cause, should be reported to the statewide spill line at 1-800-642-3074.