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Kentuckians Defend Ohio River Quality Standards

The deepest point of the Ohio River runs through Louisville, Ky. (William Aden/Flickr)
The deepest point of the Ohio River runs through Louisville, Ky. (William Aden/Flickr)
February 11, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A long-awaited vote is expected this week on the future of water-quality standards that impact nearly two-thirds of Kentucky's waterways. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is reconsidering its role in setting limits on pollution discharges in the river.

The agency has been around for nearly 60 years and is comprised of commissioners from eight states, including Kentucky. With the Environmental Protection Agency and states setting their own standards, the argument is that ORSANCO could focus its efforts on monitoring and spill response.

Kevin Hengehold with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth contended that would result in a patchwork of weaker standards among states.

"According to ORSANCO's own research, there are 188 chemicals that they regulated that EPA and other states don't regulate,” Hengehold said. “And there are 252 chemicals that they regulate more stringently than the EPA and other states."

Amid federal efforts to weaken clean-water protections, Hengehold said this is no time for ORSANCO to shed its duties.

The commission will meet Thursday, February 14, in Covington, and could decide on another proposal that would strengthen the standards and ensure they are consistently enforced by states. An initial vote was expected in October, but was postponed for further review after a flurry of public comments in opposition.

The Ohio River is consistently ranked as the most polluted in the country, with an estimated 30 million pounds of toxic chemicals illegally dumped into its waters each year. As vice chair of the Environmental Justice Committee with the Democratic Socialists of America in Northern Kentucky, Eira Tansey said she believes some of ORSANCO's members aren't acting in the river's best interests.

"Many of them have ties to industry that often put many pollutants into the Ohio River,” Tansey said. “So it seems to me that they are more interested in representing the interests of industry than they are in protecting health and safety for all users of the Ohio River."

Mary Joyce Moeller is a Sister of Divine Providence in Melbourne. She said she's greatly concerned about the pollutants and toxins in the Ohio River that can harm health and even cause cancer.

"It's a moral issue, it's a life issue, and not just for us living today but for our children, our grandchildren and future generations and also for the effect on fish and marine life,” Moeller said. “So I really encourage people to get involved and speak out."

More than 4 million people live within the Ohio River Basin in Kentucky.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - KY