Ohio River

The 981-mile Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh, PA, and winds through West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois before converging with the Mississippi River near the small town of Cairo, IL.  The Ohio River provides drinking water for approximately 3 million Americans and recreation and fisheries for millions more.

The Ohio River is also one of the most polluted river in the U.S., according to the U.S. EPA.  Mercury pollution — a potent neurotoxin that impairs fetal brain development — in the Ohio River increased by more than 40% between 2007 and 2013, according to EPA data.  High levels of nitrates and other pollutants also plague the river. Additionally, coal plants, factories and water treatment facilities dot the riverbanks, discharging byproducts that contribute to pollution and health hazards in the river.



ELPC is part of the Ohio River Valley Cleaner Water Collaborative, a coalition of 20 state and regional non-profit organizations committed to reducing pollution and improving public health along the Ohio River. Our coalition is engaged in legal and policymaking processes before the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), which sets water pollution standards for the river. We are working together to reduce pollution into the Ohio River from:

  • Mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that impairs fetal brain development and harms children. ELPC and our allies are asking ORSANCO to uphold its ban on industrial mercury “mixing zones.” The ban was passed in 2003 and expected to go into effect in 2013, but the Commission has been delaying implementation and granting exemptions to many companies.
  • Nutrient Runoff. There is growing concern – and evidence already – that toxic algae blooms fed by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus impact Ohio’s environment and economy. More testing and tracking of nutrient pollution in the Ohio River is an important step toward reducing this harmful runoff from urban and rural sources.
  • High Temperatures. Coal plants discharge waste water that reaches 110 degrees, and they are asking ORSANCO for permission to discharge at even higher temperatures. These extreme temperatures disrupt aquatic ecosystems and in turn reduce the quality of water in the Ohio River.

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