Toxic chemical spills in the Ohio River

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Diagram representing Cumene

At least 10,300 gallons of a toxic chemical, Cumene, also called isopropyl benzene, which is generally used in paint thinner, fuels, and rubber, spilled from a barge after it hit a wall of an underwater moveable dam in the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky, according to the United States Coast Guard.

"There's a tremendous volume of water going through there, so there's a dilution factor, and this will be taken into consideration as they try to take measures to contain it," said a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Maggie Carson.

The barge, which held at least 960,000 gallons of the chemical, hit the dam owned by Kirby Marine at Brookport, Illinois. The barge still blocks the river, leaving the waterway open to traffic going in one direction at a time for at least one mile on the river.

Authorities have stated that the drinking water is okay to drink and that as of the moment the toxin has not been found in any water pumps in the area.

"I would say it's not particularly dangerous. Any spill is serious ... but my answer would be that there would not be a risk to human health," said a spokesperson for Kirby Marine, Mark Buese.

It is not known what the environmental impact might be, but according to U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Wayne Chapman, the chemical floats on the surface of water so it will evaporate quickly.

Exposure to the chemical can cause headaches, eye irritation, nose and throat irritation, as well as some dizziness. Any animals that have been exposed directly to the chemical could also be at risk.

It is still not known what caused the crash.