Communities need protection that ORSANCO gives

It is no secret that the Ohio River is far from being clean. This drinking water source for more than 5 million people has been named the most polluted river in the USA for the past seven years. In 2014, more than 24 million pounds of industrial wastes and chemicals were dumped into the Ohio River. That’s twice as many pollutants by weight as was put into the Mississippi River.

In 1948, a multi-state agency, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitary Commission (ORSANCO) was formed to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin. This commission has been monitoring chemical and physical parameters in the water, conducting surveys and coordinating emergency response activities for spills and accidental discharges on the Ohio River ever since.

On June 7, this Commission voted 14 to 6 to move forward with a proposal to eliminate its water pollution control standards for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the Ohio River, handing over that job to the eight member states. The commission has set standards for chemicals and heavy metals and according to the news agency Inside Climate News “often at more stringent levels than state or federal standards.”

The money required to maintain the Pollution Control Standards is a small fraction of ORSANCO’s total budget. The Minority Report from ORSANCO emphasizes that “the Pollution Control Standards reflect that there are at least 188 parameters among the six signatory states and EPA, for which ORSANCO has a criteria but the state or EPA does not.”

Currently, the water quality of the river is being threatened as result of the boom of oil and gas drilling in the tri-state region. The proposed Appalachian Petrochemical Storage Hub near Monroe County Ohio would collect fracked gas and other heavier hydrocarbon liquids from the tri-state area via a six-pack of pipelines running 386 miles along the banks of the Ohio River from Monaca, PA. through West Virginia to Catlettsburg, Ky.

The facility would pull millions of gallons of water from the river to create storage caverns by dissolving salt deposits. It would also produce millions of gallons of salty brine which will be held in a pond adjacent to the Ohio River.

There are also plans for the construction of up to six huge ethane cracker facilities similar to the one being built in Monaca, PA. which would manufacture 1.6 million tons of plastics a year. They could also discharge oil, benzene, and phthalates into the Ohio River.

If this storage hub, cracker plants, and the additional industries associated with them become a reality, the Ohio River would receive even more industrial pollution. At a recent petrochemical industry conference, one engineer admitted that the state regulators in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have “little experience with natural gas liquids storage facilities of its size” and that there are “few regulations as well.”

During a time when federal environmental regulations are weakened on a daily basis, our communities need the protection that ORSANCO’s Pollution Control Standards provide. We need to speak up or those standards may disappear. A public hearing will be held on July 26 at 6 p.m. at the Cincinnati Airport Holiday Inn. Aug. 10 is the public comment deadline. Please address comments to: (ORSANCO, 5735 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45230). A decision is expected at the Oct. 4 meeting in Lansing, West Virginia.

Dr. Randi Pokladnik