CINCINNATI – Emergency crews were responding after 10 barges broke free from a tugboat on the Ohio River in the Louisville area Tuesday.
The barges came loose from the tug – a boat that assists other vessels in or out of port – around 2 a.m. Tuesday and “made contact with a stationary structure at the entrance to the Portland Canal,” according to a news release from Jessica Wethington, spokesperson for Louisville Metro Emergency Services.
One of the barges was carrying 1,400 tons of methanol, a chemical used in everyday products, and was partially submerged at McAlpine Dam, said a tweet from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. The barges also carried soy and corn, emergency services said.
Impact on air and water
“There is currently zero evidence of a tank breach or any leaks, and air and water monitoring resources are in place,” Wethington said.
The incident occurred downriver from Louisville, and the nearest Kentucky intake station is in Henderson, about two hours west of the city. Kathleen Speicher from the Louisville Water Co. said there should be no impact on the city’s water supply because of the location of the incident, as it occurred downriver from Louisville’s water intake.
“Your water is safe to drink,” Speicher said. “But we will continue to monitor the situation.”
In a social media post at about 12:30 p.m.Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the lock chambers on the McAlpine Dam would be closed, describing the incident as a “navigation accident.” No injuries were reported, the post said.
Three barges were still pinned against the lower side of the dam Tuesday afternoon, but USACE said all others had been recovered. The locks would remain closed until the barges were stabilized, the post added.
Is Kentucky’s water affected?
Officials in Western Kentucky are also monitoring the situation, according to Josh Thompson, Henderson Water Utility’s treatment superintendent, who said the company is working with the Kentucky Division of Water and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission in the aftermath of the incident.
It would take at least a couple of days for the chemicals to travel the approximately 200 miles of river between Louisville and Henderson, Thompson said, and the company has measures in place to treat the water if it were to be impacted by the spill.
Methanol is “fairly volatile” and dissipates quickly, he added – and while the barge was reported to be carrying 1,400 tons of the chemical, it wasn’t a complete spill of that entire total.
Water officials are monitoring the aftermath of the incident, he said, but are not concerned for water users in the city as of Tuesday afternoon.
The river waterway is open to the use of vessel traffic services, emergency services said.
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Contributing: Lucas Aulbach.