Aerial Video of Ohio River Shows Color Change After Chemical Spill

Aerial footage of the Ohio River shows a difference in color in the water following a toxic spill near the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania that led to the contamination of waterways that feed into it.

In the video, published on Twitter yesterday, a plume of bright orange can be seen shifting down along one bank of the river, while the rest of the water remains green. Satellite imagery shows the river is typically turquoise in color.

Kenny Webster, a radio host who tweeted the footage, said it was taken from the part of the river near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials said on Tuesday that during the initial phase of the incident, toxic chemicals had seeped into Sulphur Run near East Palestine, Ohio, making their way downstream into the Ohio River.

Tiffany Kavalec, chief of the surface water division of the Ohio EPA, said during a press conference that a "contaminant plume" was estimated to be moving down the major river at around one mile an hour. On Friday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said the plume was "no longer detectable."

Ohio River East Palestine spill
A file photo of the Ohio River cutting through Wheeling in West Virginia and, inset, contractors for rail operator Norfolk Southern continue a clean-up operation of the derailment site near East Palestine, Ohio. There are concerns about the quality of the water. Chris Boswell/Getty Images/EPA

It's unclear when the aerial footage was taken. Newsweek has contacted the EPA for comment.

The derailment of a cargo train near East Palestine on February 3 led to a large fire, which required emergency responders to drain five cars of toxic vinyl chloride and execute a controlled burn, sending toxic gases into the air. Some 38 out of 150 cars came off the tracks, of which 11 contained hazardous loads.

EPA officials detected toxic substances in the nearby water and soil, but they have stressed air contamination remained at safe levels and monitoring is ongoing.

The surrounding area was evacuated ahead of the controlled burn, and since being allowed to return, residents have complained of symptoms associated with exposure to toxic chemicals. DeWine has said he wouldn't have allowed residents to return unless officials were confident it was safe to do so.

Other videos have been posted showing the apparent contamination of waterways around East Palestine—including by J. D. Vance, a freshman senator for Ohio, who described the water at Leslie Run as "disgusting."

Another, posted on Reddit, at an unknown location near the derailment site, showed a man kicking at the river bed, which stirs iridescent chemicals to the water's surface. "There's a stench—a butane kind of stench—just by moving the riverbed around a little bit," he says. "This run is dead until this entire bed is cleaned out."

Sulphur Run flows past the site of the derailment and through East Palestine before joining Leslie Run, which then merges with Little Beaver Creek before eventually joining the Ohio River near Glasgow, Pennsylvania. The EPA detected low levels of butyl acrylate and ethylhexyl acrylate in Leslie Run on February 10.

DeWine said on Friday that Sulphur Run remains contaminated, but the water within it had been contained to avoid further contamination downstream. The EPA Great Lakes tweeted on Sunday that Norfolk Southern, the rail operator, had diverted upstream water around the containment area to "effectively cut off" additional contamination.

Contractors for Norfolk Southern have been aerating the water in the containment area to remove the chemicals, and the Ohio EPA said on Friday that there was residual material in Leslie Run, which was also being aerated.

On Sunday, Trent Conaway, mayor of East Palestine, told residents with private wells to drink bottled water. Experts have previously expressed concern that chemicals that permeated the soil could migrate into the groundwater, which the wells draw from.

Water suppliers that draw drinking water from the Ohio River for more than 5 million people said that the levels of toxic chemicals observed in the waterway were well below levels of concern, but had increased the amount of filtration materials they used.