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 5 million Americans and recreation and fisheries for millions more.

The Ohio River is also one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S., according to the U.S. EPA. Its banks are highly populated and industrialized, and it’s served as a dumping ground for local cities and industries for generations. States across the watershed came together to found the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) by 1948, one of the first collaborations to establish multi-state environmental standards in the country. We’ve seen progress on cleaning up the river in some ways, but there is still a lot of work to do.

What is ELPC Doing?

  • ORSANCO – ELPC is part of the ORSANCO Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee. Recently, we’ve focused on a successful effort to keep pollution control standards in place, which set baseline water quality for the whole river. Moving forward we’ll ensure these standards are uniformly implemented to protect clean water all along the length of the river.
  • 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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