Cincinnati to bill Norfolk Southern for thousands in extra water tests

The City didn’t wait for state tests to arrive, instead proactively traveling to eastern Ohio to get the data.
City of Cincinnati discusses water, hazardous response locally
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:14 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2023 at 7:32 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) performed its own testing in East Palestine after the Norfolk Southern train derailment rather than waiting for state samples to come in, a city official told city council Tuesday.

The water agency didn’t believe the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission samples were coming in fast enough from a water source that flows into the Ohio River, according to Water Quality Superintendent Jeff Swerfeger.

Members of the GCWW traveled to northeast Ohio to get a water sample so they knew what they might be dealing with in the ensuing days.

“We did not get near where we would have had a problem,” GCWW Interim Water Director Verna Arnette said.

There is an additional cost to run the tests they performed over the past couple of weeks. Each test costs as much as $200 and they ran an extra 150-200 as the GCWW tracked the chemical plume flowing down the Ohio River.

GCWW officials say they will be billing Norfolk Southern for the cost of running the tests.

The city’s water agency closed the Ohio River’s water intake in Cincinnati early Sunday as a precaution despite not detecting any carcinogenic chemicals released in the Feb. 3 derailment and explosion in East Palestine, according to Swerfeger.

The water intake reopened Monday.

“Our water is safe, we’re doing great monitoring, we’re doing great treatment,” Swertfeger said. “We don’t see anything in the river right now and we’re continuing to monitor the river so if anything were to get into the river we would be able to detect it and respond to it.”

He added that the water works tests the river every two hours looking for “millions of compounds.”

Officials from the Cincinnati Fire Department also spoke Tuesday about how they respond to a hazard like the train derailment.

“I believe the City of Cincinnati has a very capable hazardous material response capability,” CFD District Chief in Charge of Special Operations Michael Cayse said. “And I believe we could have handled the event very well.”

Cayse pointed out in Cincinnati it’s not only trains but also boats and trucks that could cause a disaster.

“We also have multiple interstates that run through our community,” Cayse said. “We have a very active river that has commodities that ship up and down the river all the time, so it’s more than just the rail yards.”

GCWW keeps enough water in reserve to last two to three days.

But the intakes could remain closed longer if needed and they have ways of eliminating certain chemicals or contaminants in the water, for example, powdered activated carbon.

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