April 14, 2024
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East Palestine Hazardous Materials Release - Little Beaver Creek Watershed

Following spills with potential to impact drinking water sources in Ohio 

Ohio River Water Quality Update Mar 6, 2023

Ohio River Water Quality Update

Upper Ohio- Little Beaver Creek Watershed

  • Feb 3 – fish kill with unknown material spill in Unity Township, Columbiana County, as published in the WTOH Hazardous Spill report dated Feb 6 – 12, 2023


March 2 final water test results (samples taken at East Palestine Feb 21)

The latest lab report is published in full on the Ohio EPA web site now, concerning public drinking water supply at the site of the hazmat release and spill.


WTOH asked Ohio EPA to help us understand the water test report terminology from the last available report, where we found disinfection by-products measured from samples taken along the Ohio River downstream of East Palestine fell below the maximum contaminant level before and after the Feb 3 incident.  Here is our Q&A with Ohio EPA spokesperson Anthony Chenault:

WTOH: If a particular analyte has a measured concentration value on the report, does this mean that it is found in a concentration above the reporting limit?

OEPA: “Yes, if a result is in the “Concentration Column” and nothing is listed in the "Less than Indicator" column, then the result is above the minimum reporting level (MRL), which is different than the maximum contaminant level (MCL). 

WTOH:  What are the EPA maximum contaminant levels for haloacetic acids, including dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, chloroform, bromodichloromethane and dibromochloromethane?

OEPA: The safe levels for the compounds you provided reflects the sum of those listed compounds, grouped together called “HAA5 disinfection by-products”.

 Disinfection by-products form from the combination of disinfection (chlorine) and natural organic matter. For HAA5, the MCL is 60 ug/L, measured as a locational running annual average (LRAA) the sum of those analytes, sampled quarterly. With an LRAA, a system could be over the MCL for individual sample results in a quarter and not have an MCL violation if the LRAA is less than 60 ug/L. 

WTOH:  Is the drinking water treated to remove the HAA5 compounds?  How are these compounds removed?

Systems are not required to treat for being over the MRL, only if they are over the MCL. A water system may choose to install treatment for detections of contaminants below the MCL.  But, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act and Ohio drinking water rules, violations are only issued for exceedances of the MCL. Violations of this type require the water system to provide public notice to their customers.

Disinfection by-products can be removed or reduced by using mixing/aeration to ensure adequate turnover in storage tanks. Operators also flush the system to ensure the drinking water has not been standing for long periods of time, or use granular activated carbon treatment, which reduces or removes substances that react with the chlorine to produce disinfection by-products.

The Ohio River Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is responsible for the safety of Ohio River from the headwaters fed by Allegheny River in southwest New York to the joining of the Ohio River with the Mississippi River in Alexander County near Cairo,  Illinois.  WTOH inquired of the water quality results downstream and got the following emailed response from Richard Harrison of ORSANCO on Mar 6, 2023

WTOH:  How would you describe the Ohio River water quality today, downstream of the East Palestine incident of Feb 3?

ORSANCO:  Our data available on ORSANCO’s website would be the best source for that information.  As you can see, we are not having any detections from the spill remnants and have not had any for some time.

WTOH:  Have the Ohio River-sourced drinking water facilities downstream of East Palestine been conducting an expanded panel of contaminant testing since the Feb 3 incident?  What did you see of the water test results as the debris plume moved through, at the peak of the contaminant load?

ORSANCO: The data I have available is from our website and is available with the Ohio River Mile as well as the results.

We refer here to the City of Cincinnati water testing disclosure of Feb 24, 2023 as posted on City of Cincinnati and re-posted at ORSANCO.org as  follows:

The City of Cincinnati and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) continue to closely monitor Ohio River water and are working diligently to ensure the safety of all Cincinnati area residents following the recent train derailment and subsequent chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

The intake was closed at 2 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, as a precautionary measure while water from East Palestine passed through the Cincinnati area. After extensive sampling of river water Sunday through Monday morning, there have been no detections of the specific chemicals from the train derailment. GCWW did have an extremely low detection of the compound 2-Ethyl-1-hexanol in one sample collected in the river near the closed intake Sunday afternoon, Feb. 19.; however, there have been no detections since that time.

As a reminder, GCWW had the water intakes closed throughout this sampling period, so no river water entered the water plant. After continued monitoring and sampling, around 12 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, GCWW determined it is safe to reopen the water intake.

Optimized treatment has been incorporated as a precautionary measure. Additionally, GCWW will continue to closely monitor and sample the Ohio River and work with neighboring utilities and partners.

Water test reports from samples taken at the Cincinnati intake are published on the ORSANCO.org site.  WTOH reads lab test results taken at intervals beginning at noon Feb 3, 2023 prior to the spill/release incident through to the 24th of February. During this time, the following contaminants tested below detectable levels: butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, 2-ethylhexanol.

  1. Did hazardous materials from East Palestine, particularly the chlorine compound materials, add to the haloacetic acid levels in the raw water?

ORSANCO:  We did not sample for haloacetic acids in the Ohio River. 


We asked Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to comment on the formation of haloacetic acids in the river water, normally a hazardous by-product of the chlorine used in disinfection, whether these compounds were forming in the raw water following the hazmat release of vinyl chloride.

Return to Spill Tracker for updates to these and more water quality inquiries.


Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center: (800) 230-7049

Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency: (330) 424-9725

EPA Information Line: (215) 814-2400
EPA's East Palestine information line is open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Eastern Time). The phone line is experiencing high call volume. If you are unable to get through to an operator, please leave a message. Agency operators are checking voicemails and returning calls regularly and will be in touch.


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