Flooding raises concerns about Ohio River pollution, threats to water quality standards

CINCINNATI, OHIO (Feb. 28, 2018) – As the Ohio River crested at over 60.5 feet, Cincinnati residents watched water slowly take over roads and parks, basements and garages.

It’s important to note, though, that the problem goes beyond just having too much water and the resulting inconveniences. What’s in that water should also be of concern.

“This is Ohio River water that has not been treated,” said Rich Cogen, executive director of the Ohio River Foundation (ORF), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and improving water quality and ecology in the region. “People need to be aware that there is pollution associated with flooding and take the necessary precautions to make sure that they are safe and their families are safe.”

Cincinnati has a combined sewer system, wherein rainwater and sewage go into the same pipe. High volumes of water like the area has been experiencing can lead to overflows, with the water bypassing treatment plants. When that happens, both sewage and runoff from homes and industries, which can include chemicals such as fertilizers and mercury, flow back into the Ohio River untreated.

On top of that, floodwaters flowing into places such as junkyards, industrial sites, roadways, and garages, where all sorts of objects and hazardous materials ranging from cleaners to oil to pesticides collect or are stored, carry those items back to the river.

All of this means residents should exercise caution when dealing with cleanup or attempting to wade through high waters, where sewage, chemicals and floating objects could be present.

As the waters slowly recede, they are taking some of these hazards with them. That means pollution and the resulting negative impacts on people and ecosystems are a concern both locally and downriver.


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