Tracing Chemical Spill Downstream

Chemical Spill Update

A busy Friday for all who are affected by or working for a safe resolution to the Thursday chemical spill on the Elk River in Charleston. While the NO USE WATER BAN remains in effect for parts of 9 West Virginia Counties as of Friday 11:30pm, soon the attention will shift downstream on the Great Kanawha and then into the Mighty Ohio itself.

Newschannel’s Dan Griffin reports that a sample of water taken in Charleston registered 3 parts per million of the chemical in question (4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol). This was considered an “unacceptable” level hence the extension of the NO WATER BAN.

Now going on 36 hours since the spill it is soon time to turn our attention to the lower end of the Great Kanawha and in time the mighty Ohio itself. Jim Schray, a hydraulic engineer, helped me to map out the future course of the leftover chemical this weekend.

After the record cold arctic outbreak, our rivers are running a tad lower than normal winter levels. So Jim’s computer data suggests the leftovers from the spill could reach Point Pleasant at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha by Saturday night.

From there another 2 day downstream pass through the Byrd and into the Greenup pools would bring the highly diluted remains to Virginia Point (at the confluence of the Big Sandy and Ohio) by Monday.

The wild card of course was the expected heavy rainfall on Saturday when an inch of rain along with a rare rumble of January thunder was likely. This would in time send the Ohio up stoutly beginning Saturday night into Sunday and in theory that would speed the flow downstream.

The extra rain would also further dilute the leftover chemical as it speeds its way downstream.

In addition, there are 3 very strong reasons to believe the concentration of the chemical will be dwindling as it flows farther downstream from the Kanawha into the Ohio; namely,

1. the spatial dilution (100 mile trip on water from Charleston to Catlettsburg)

2. the volumetric dilution (deeper and wider waters are ahead of the spill though the Winfield, Bryd and Greenup pools of the Kanawha and Ohio) and

3. the temporal dilution (36 hours and counting since the spill).

Add it all up and as Dr. Mike Castellani, Marshall Chemistry Department Chair surmised, "it seems highly unlikely that the measurements of the contaminant in Charleston will be realized downstream past the Winfield Pool and into the Ohio River".


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