West Virginia's Heavy Rain Is a Blessing and Curse After Ohio Derailment

Heavy rainfall may prove advantageous for West Virginia as some of the toxic chemicals released from the train derailment in eastern Ohio are heading toward the Mountain State's waterways.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice declared a State of Emergency Thursday as a severe weather system causing flooding and road closures makes its way across his state. The National Weather Service predicts the thunderstorms and heavy rainfall will likely continue into early Friday morning.

The rain system is providing some positives for the state, however, as the plume of butyl acrylate released after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, is expected to reach Huntington, West Virginia, sometime on Friday, according to a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer, which cited officials at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Heavy rains
A car plods along on a flooded street. On Thursday, all counties in West Virginia were placed under a State of Emergency in response to a heavy rain system that is passing through the state. The downpours may also prove beneficial for the Mountain State, as some of the toxic chemicals from the Ohio train derailment are heading its way. Getty

In an update on Thursday covered by WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia, officials said the "leading edge" of the plume was estimated to be near Point Pleasant, where the mouth of the Kanawha River meets the Ohio River.

"The influx of water from the Kanawha River should add at least 25 percent additional dilution, on top of the dilution added from the current rain event, which will be helpful as this moves downstream," said Scott Mandirola, deputy secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP).

According to Mandirola's update, samples collected along the Ohio River on Wednesday by the WVDEP and partnering agencies detected at most 3 parts per billion of butyl acrylate, a chemical used to make products like paints and plastics. As the WVDEP officials state, that level is well below the 560 parts per billion threshold considered hazardous by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials also assured residents that chemical substances released from the train crash have not entered West Virginia's water supply at this time, and that there is no danger to residents' air quality.

According to Terry Fletcher, WVDEP communications officer, officials are much more worried about the severe weather endangering residents than the low levels of chemicals that are being detected.

"While the heavy rains will help to further dilute the plume of butyl acrylate, they have the potential to cause significant flooding in the area, which poses a higher risk to a greater number of West Virginians," Fletcher told Newsweek in a statement Thursday.

After a train transporting several hazardous materials derailed in eastern Ohio on February 3, officials chose to conduct a controlled release of the chemicals to avoid a potential explosion at the crash site. While the release may have prevented a larger disaster, officials and residents have expressed concern for the ecological systems surrounding the derailment.

West Virginia is around 20 miles south of the village of East Palestine.

The West Virginia Emergency Management Division announced on Tuesday that it had detected traces of butyl acylate in the Ohio River, and immediately recommended a pause on all water intake until further testing.

As of Wednesday, examination by the Ohio EPA found that the municipal water in East Palestine was safe to drink.

Update 2/16/23, 9:26 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional comment from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.