Cincinnati stops using Ohio River water ‘out of an abundance of caution’ following East Palestine train disaster

The city of Cincinnati on Friday announced it would be temporarily shutting off all intake from the Ohio River, as the region continues to grapple with the ongoing fallout from the Feb. 3 derailment of a shipping train carrying toxic chemicals near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. Citing an “abundance of caution,” Cincinnati officials confirmed in a release they would be tapping the city’s water reserves until such time as the City of Cincinnati and Greater Cincinnati Water Works determine it is safe to resume using water from the Ohio River.

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The city’s announcement comes the same day as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) worked to assure the public that any contamination of the river has since dissipated to negligible levels, and that the water was again “safe to drink.”

Per the city’s press release, municipal waterworks analysts have already conducted tests on 130 samples of Ohio River water at the Cincinnati intake site, finding “no detectable levels of the chemicals” from the train derailment to date. Nevertheless, the city will apply “additional optimized treatment [to Ohio River water] once the intakes are reopened, even if no chemicals are detected.”

For the time being, the decision to tap the local water reserves seems to be as much about public confidence as it is public safety. “There’s zero risk that our water reserves contain contaminants from the train derailment site,” City Manager Sheryl Long stressed in a statement. Accordingly, using the reserves “will give us all peace of mind.”

Despite these assurances from DeWine and others, some are still skeptical that the ecological impact of the derailment and chemical spill is indeed finished. On Thursday, newly-elected Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance (R) posted a video of himself at an East Palestine creek, pointing out “dead worms and dead fish all throughout this water” as he used a stick to show purported chemicals on the surface of the water.

“The fact that these chemicals are still seeping into the ground is an insult to the people who live in East Palestine,” Vance said. “Do not forget these people.” 

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