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.