Bay Journal

The latest on Potomac latex spill

A spill of 10,000 gallons of latex into the Potomac River has water utilities switching to backup sources.

  • By Whitney Pipkin on October 01, 2015
  • Comments are closed for this article.
A map from the ICPRB shows where the oil spill originated.

A week ago, 10,000 gallons of a latex chemical substance spilled into the Potomac River. But a lot can happen in a week, so — in case you haven’t had a chance to peruse myriad news reports — here’s an update:

While “spill!” might ring all too familiar to residents who have lived through a proliferation of the chemical variety in recent years, officials do not believe this one poses a real threat to the public that relies on the Potomac for drinking water. That said, the spill does appear to be traveling faster than models originally predicted and some water utilities are tapping into their reserves as a precaution. 

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Associated Press, the spill involves 10,000 gallons of latex used for paper coating at the Verso paper mill in Luke, MD, and into the North Branch of the Potomac River over a four-hour period.

The latex spilled as it was being unloaded from a rail car on Wednesday. MDE was notified and investigated the spill soon after, triggering a stream of precautions and monitoring programs to track the spill’s reach.

Since then, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) has been running a model to predict when the spill will reach drinking water facilities in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

According to an update from the Potomac Conservancy on Thursday, a handful of West Virginia municipalities have shut down their Potomac River intakes and will use an emergency water source until Oct. 9 to avoid the spill. Those include Paw Paw, Berkeley County and Shepherdstown.

MDE’s water samples have not found either styrene or butadiene in the water, but municipalities are taking precautions mostly to ensure the chemicals don’t damage their water treatment equipment.

While the rain falling heavily on the Washington, D.C., metro area is speeding up the flow of the river — and the spill’s arrival — it is also helping to dilute the water more quickly. D.C. officials have said they don’t expect the spill to effect its water supply.

Follow the progress of the spill and municipalities decisions surrounding it with the Potomac Conservancy here.

And read a Frequently Asked Questions page from the ICPRB here.

About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin


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robert bittner jr on October 05, 2015:

I am not really concerned with the spills "threat " to drinking water supplies along the NBPR , rather its effect on the aquatic ecosystem. The NBPR is a great fishery - despite the constant discolor from the Luke plant and municipal (non)treatment facility. In large part this is due to an excellent forage base for the game fish. In addition the NBPR is home to numerous waterfowl and fishing birds , how has this latex coating affected them. Perhaps if those employed at the plant and the politicians that govern the regulatory process had to drink the water directly there would be more concern for water quality.

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