The implication associated with online posts in February 2023 that a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, therefore poisoned the entire Ohio River basin's drinking water supply is unsupported.
Following the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, which saw the release of a fiery plume of toxic chemicals on Feb. 6, 2023, several Twitter accounts — often those associated with conspiracy theories — reminded their followers that 10% of the the entire U.S. population lives in the watershed — the Ohio River Basin — in which the derailment occurred.
From a trivia standpoint, the fact about the proportion of the population living within the bounds of this basin is true. As described by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
The Ohio River Basin covers 204,000 square miles encompassing parts of 15 states. It is home to over 25 million people equaling 10% of the population of the United States. The Ohio River alone is 981 miles long and runs from the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and ends in Cairo, Illinois. Along the way the Ohio River provides drinking water to several million people.
The implication that the entire basin will be without drinking water due to the chemical release is unsupported by evidence, however. While there will likely be long-term health concerns associated with the release of these chemicals into the soil, the immediate scope of contamination to Ohio River drinking water is unknown.
Water in the immediate area of the derailment resulted, apparently, in thousands of fish dying, but experts say many of the chemicals associated with the derailment will degrade rapidly and/or are capable of being removed by water treatment plants. As reported by Louisville's WLKY, which serves a region downstream from the accident:
Chris Bobay, a water quality manager for Louisville Water, said right now, any affected water is still in West Virginia. He said they've been working with their upstream partners to closely monitor it as it heads toward Louisville, but there is still "a long way to go."
Bobay said the network is detecting low levels of chemicals, well below CDC health guidelines, and the main concern would just be a change in the "taste and odor" of the water.
Luckily, butyl acrylate is "not unpleasant" in that regard, and would likely make the water somewhat floral or fruity.
However, he did say they have a plan to remove any odors. He said it is easily oxidized.
He also said the chemical is degrading as it heads downstream.
"Our best friend is the river itself, it's a pretty thriving ecosystem and handles its own problem which is a good thing for us being so far downstream," Bobay said.
Because reliable sources confirm that roughly 10% of the U.S. population lives in the Ohio River Basin, however, that basic claim is "True."