Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 13, 2014

Chemical test results low on Ashland arrival

ASHLAND — The chemical spill in West Virginia has plunged that state into national emergency and left many on the east end of the Bluegrass fearful the contaminant would find its way into their water supply. But Ashland water customers can have peace of mind after Ashland Water Treatment Plant reports Monday.

According to Ashland Director of Engineering and Utilities Ryan Eastwood, the chemical — 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (Crude MCHM) — reached the plant’s intake point in the Ohio River at 3:02 a.m. Monday. At that point, he said the city stopped drawing from the river.

On Friday, Eastwood outlined the contingency plan to prepare for the arrival of the toxin that has rendered nearly 300,000 West Virginians without a main water source.

He said if the chemical reached the Ashland water system, they would draw from a reservoir maintained behind the plant with 12 to 18 hours of raw, untreated water supply that could aid customers in limited amounts until the substance passed downstream.

As soon as the plant detected the presence of Crude MCHM Monday morning, Eastwood said water supply from the Ohio River was cut off, and the city tapped into the reservoir.

After this initial detection, he said they continuously tested and sampled the concentration levels of the chemical. After five hours with exceptionally low ratings, intake from the river was resumed at 8 a.m.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has basically established an allowable limit of one part per million,” he said. “So far, all readings we’ve had are well below that. The highest reading we received is two parts per billion.”

He added Huntington has experienced higher readings, with .3 parts per million of Crude MCHM, but that is still an exceptionally low concentration, and is nothing to worry about.

“We’re monitoring it more than hourly. In the plant, we have a gas chromatograph that checks the chemical levels frequently,” he said.

While the concentration in the Ohio River is currently safe enough to allow intake to resume, Eastwood said they will continue to vigorously monitor the chemical levels until it is completely diminished. If they detect concentration of the chemical strengthening, Eastwood said they will shut off river intake again.

“Most people are saying it’s at least 16 miles long and the river is moving four miles per hour now,” he said. “So, potentially, we could have only four more hours of it, but it’ll probably be longer. We’re going to be testing for it for a good 24 hours at a minimum.”

Workers at the plant are taking an extra precaution, not only to ensure the water is clean as possible, but also to deter panic should customers smell the notable “black licorice” scent associated with the toxin.

“The concentration is so low, but you could still potentially have the odor of licorice in water,” Eastwood said. “Don’t be alarmed. We’re actually trying to treat it with additional carbon to make sure there’s no noticeable change in smell, taste or anything.”

He also speculates that the Big Sandy River may have helped deter the full strength of the chemical from reaching Ashland, saying it’s possible the flows pushed some of it toward the banks.

Eastwood and new City Manager Ben Bitter have been diligently checking the water since learning of the spill near Charleston on Thursday.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at

lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2653.

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