Greater Cincinnati Water Works prepared to deal with chemical spill in Ohio River, mayor says

CINCINNATI, Ohio – Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) is preparing to protect the city's water supply from potentially toxic chemicals.

The city will shutdown two river water intake valves to protect the city’s water supply from a spill into a tributary of the Ohio River in West Virginia last week that is approaching the region.

RELATED: Greater Cincinnati Water Works assesses local risk after West Virginia chemical spill

The shutdown is set for Tuesday, but as WCPO reporter Amy Wadas found, people around the Tri-State will still be able to drink their water.

The spill is expected to reach the Tri-State between 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Tuesday. Jeff Swerfeger tests water for Greater Cincinnati Water Works, and studied a water sample collected from the Ohio River.

"In this situation, we are running emergency mode. We're running 24/7. This machine has gotten a lot of work over the last few days," Swerfeger said.

Swerfeger showed WCPO a graph of peaks that represent compounds that were in the sample.

The higher the peak, the higher the chemical concentration is in the water. The highest peak on the graph Swerfeger showed WCPO is from the Elk River in West Virginia.

"You can drink it, we encourage that," Swerfeger said. "You can take a shower, flush your toilets, take a bath, give water to your dogs."

There are reservoirs holding about 300 million gallons of water - enough to supply the Tri-State for two or three days. That will be just enough time for the chemicals to pass through the area, before Water Works officials decide it's safe to turn the intake valves back on.

In a 3:30 p.m. Monday press conference, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and water officials outlined a plan to ensure the safety of the area’s water supply.

"We expect the spill will be through this area in less than 24 hours and that's good news for us because we have about 60 hours of capacity in our system," said Tony Parrott with GCWW. "In addition to that, we have supplemental supply from our Bolton water facility, which is an underground facility as well."

GCWW is working closely with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission to track the spill and test river water expected to start reaching the region mid-evening Tuesday.

Cranley and GCWW Director Biju George said the two intakes that supply water to the city will be shut down until the threat passes.

Ground water from the Bolton Treatment Plant will be used to supplement water supplies until tests confirm the spill passed.

On Thursday last week, chemicals from Freedom Industries in Charleston, West Virginia spilled into the river from a containment area. Specifically, a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol , a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, entered the river.

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More than 300,000 people were banned from using tap water for five days in West Virginia due to the spill.

Charleston is about 200 miles away from Cincinnati.

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