Chemical in Tri-State waters at levels deemed 'safe' by the CDC

CINCINNATI -- A chemical leak from West Virginia is still detectable in Tri-State waters Thursday morning at levels deemed “safe” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) officials said Wednesday the chemical, Crude MCHM or 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol , was at levels between 10 and 30 parts per billion (PPB) in raw Ohio River water samples.

Thirty PPB is equal to .03 parts per million (PPM). CDC experts said the chemical is safe at levels below 1 PPM.

“What GCWW is detecting in the raw Ohio River water is well below what the CDC considers safe,” GCWW officials said via email. “The safety of our drinking water is our highest priority. Our water is safe and we are taking precautions to keep it safe.”

As a precautionary measure, GCWW shut down its intakes shortly before midnight Tuesday to reduce risk and protect the water supply from the chemical.

GCWW is currently using water reserves from a plant in Fairfield until officials deem the water safe from the chemical.

"We have about a two to three day supply," GCWW worker Bruce Whitteberry said.

They expect the spill to pass within the next 24 to 48 hours.

But Whitteberry said if reserves run too low before the spill passes, GCWW "may open them."

The chemical was first detected in the region Tuesday before midnight in samples taken at the Meldahl Dam, which is about 25 miles upstream of Cincinnati’s Richard Miller Treatment Plant. The chemical was detected at the plant at about 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Northern Kentucky Water District told WCPO's Brian Yocono Thursday that water sampling continues every hour and recent samples still show traces of the chemicals.

They also said the presence of the chemical has dropped and continues to drop but the plume of contamination stretches 80 miles and it could take another 24 hours until all of the chemical passes the area.

RELATED: Read a full breakdown of the chemical leak and what local experts have to say

Experts said residents don’t need to see the pollution to know it’s there: They can smell it. It has a distinct licorice smell.

"We have asked the people at the locks and dams to report to us when they smell it,” said Jerry Schulte of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission Tuesday. “(In Maysville), they smelled it at 5 a.m."

Experts are working closely with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) to track the spill and conduct ongoing water sampling analysis.

Crude MCHM, which few scientists were familiar with before the discovery of the spill last week, cleans impurities like sulfur and other pollutants from coal during its processing. Its leak left hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without tap water and with lots of unanswered questions.

When the chemical arrived in the Cincinnati area, it traveled more than 200 miles.

WCPO's Scott Wegener contributed to this report

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