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 Cairo, Illinois. The Ohio River provides drinking water for approximately 5 million Americans in addition to 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 throughout the watershed came together to found the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) in 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.
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 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.
There is growing concern that toxic algae blooms fed by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus impact Ohio’s environment and economy. More nutrient pollution tracking in the Ohio River is an important step toward reducing this harmful runoff from urban and rural sources.
Making Polluters Pay
After years of fossil fuel extraction, many communities along the Ohio River Valley struggle with water pollution and other public health challenges. Today, America’s energy landscape is changing, as uneconomical coal companies go bankrupt, new natural gas plants come online, and liquefied gas is also shifted into petrochemical facilities. ELPC is fighting to make sure both new and old polluters follow the law and pay to clean up their own messes, so local communities aren’t left holding the bill.