Liquid fertilizer spills into Ohio River, Coast Guard investigates

HEBRON, Ky. -- A barge towing multiple tons of liquid fertilizer spilled into the Ohio River near Anderson Ferry Tuesday night, sparking an investigation involving state officials and the United States Coast Guard.

According to Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for barge owner Southern Towing, the company was unsure how much urea ammonium nitrate -- a common water-soluble fertilizer -- had leaked into the river. Workers discovered the leak while the product was being removed from the barge.

"We are working with salvage companies to figure out the best way to salvage the barge," which is still tied up on the river, Wilson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, urea ammonium nitrate can cause nausea, vomiting and headache when ingested directly. Wilson said water tests up and down the river were "good," but didn't elaborate on what "good" might mean.

The Louisville Water Company released a more detailed assessment Thursday afternoon. According to the water company, the Ohio River's slow current and high volume could dilute the fertilizer to the point that its dangers are significantly reduced even before it goes through city water treatment.

"Louisville Water is being cautious in its approach," the company wrote. "Currently, our scientists feel good about our ability to manage the spill through our treatment process."

Cincinnati Water Works had not released a statement Thursday night.

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