Ohio River cited as second most endangered river in America

Apr. 25—SOUTHERN INDIANA — A report by American Rivers has found that the Ohio River is the second most endangered river in America.

The Ohio River begins at the merging of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in Pittsburgh.

It flows southwest on the borders of Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois covering more than 200,000 square miles and provides drinking water to more than 5 million people, American Rivers reported.

Because of heavy industrialization from mining and resource extraction for energy development, chemical production and durable good manufacturing, the river basin drain areas are affected by environmental pollution.

"I think that for far too long, the river has been taken for granted, almost treated like a machine and sort of a dumping ground," said Michael Washburn, Executive Director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. "I think that things are better now than they have been in the past... But there's still a lot of work to do."

At this point in history, the Ohio is not going to be able to clean itself, it needs help, he added.

The report also stated that two-thirds of the Ohio River is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act because of bacteria. High levels of nutrients present in the river have resulted in the formation of toxic algae outbreaks.

"This report is eye-opening," Washburn said. "I think we need to treat it at least as an opportunity because the designation of being the second most endangered river doesn't mean at all that the river is a lost cause."

What it does mean is that we are at a crossroads and that the river can be affected in a positive sense, Washburn said.

Chemicals such as mercury, dieldrin, PCBs, Gen-X chemicals and others have been discharged into the river, the report found. It also said pollution from the disposal of coal ash and acid mine drainage have also impacted the river.

"There's drinking water concerns, people use the Ohio River to grow crops and food and it supports a variety of species that are aquatic, like fish," said Heather Swinney, New Albany's Citizen's Climate Lobby co-leader. "We don't have unlimited fresh water on Earth... it's critical to conserve and work to protect it."

In February, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, 16 miles from the river. The train was carrying at least five toxic chemicals, one of which is vinyl chloride, a chemical used in plastic products. Another chemical, butyl acrylate, leaked into nearby streams that flow into the Ohio River.

Fearing an uncontrolled explosion, Norfolk Southern chose to vent the chemicals by burning the substances from five railcars.

Soon after the leaks happened, there were reports of rashes and headaches among residents as well as fish and other animal deaths.

"Our data was able to show that by the time it (polluted water) reached the Ohio River that diluted remnants were not at a level that provided a health concern for the Ohio River," said Richard Harrison, Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission's executive director.

Moving forward, the commission will increase monitoring and studies on the Ohio River as well as all the streams and rivers that flow into it . There is no simple solution to fix the problems of the Ohio River, it will take time and effort, Harrison said.

One way residents can help clean the river is by letting their elected officials know their concerns about the current state of the Ohio River and that it is a problem that needs to be fixed, he said.

"Representative Houchin... Our chapter has met with her already and we will continue to meet with her and be in contact with her office about climate legislation that we support and about concerns we have," said Swinney of New Albany's Citizen Climate Lobby. "That's the same for our two state senators. We work to get that grassroots communication happening at the local levels."