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WV Residents Reject Ohio River Mercury Hot Spots

posted Apr 13, 2015, 6:58 AM by Kathleen Tyner   [ updated Apr 17, 2015, 9:40 AM ]

Residents Want Action on Mercury in Ohio River

Survey says West Virginians want ban on mercury “hot spots” enforced, not lifted

After more than a decade of stalling reduction of mercury discharges into the Ohio River, West Virginians want Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to support overdue enforcement measures, according to a survey released by the nonprofits West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Kentucky Waterways Alliance. This comes at a time when Tomblin’s appointees to a special commission are considering a weakening of mercury-pollution regulations on the river, which serves as the drinking water source for 5 million people.

Mercury poisoning causes brain damage in children and kidney failure in adults, which is why a ban on dilution zones was originally ordered. “West Virginians are not anti-industry; they just want clean water,” said WV Rivers Coalition executive director Angie Rosser.

Tomblin is one of eight governors who appoint members to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), which sets water pollution limits for the river. A dozen years ago the commission ordered a ban on the use of so-called mercury dilution zones—basically, concentrated industrial discharge zones where mercury could be diluted, but never removed. Companies that have failed to comply have asked ORSANCO to be excused from the rules. High mercury levels in the Ohio River are one reason why public health officials recommend people do not eat fish from the river.

ORSANCO is holding a public hearing on the matter at 4 p.m. on April 14 in Erlanger, Kentucky. A public comment period is open through May 14.

According to this most recent survey in West Virginia, residents are saying it’s time to get strong on water protections. Among the findings:

- A majority of West Virginia residents believe the state’s water pollution standards are too lax (36.2% much too lax, 37.5% somewhat too lax).

- Few West Virginians (28%) think that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is doing a good (18%) or very good (10%) job of protecting water supplies.

- 90.5% said that Governor Tomblin should prioritize “Protecting water supplies, even if some plants must invest in upgrades to reduce pollution.” Only 9.5% said that the governor should prioritize “Keeping costs for businesses low, even if more pollution enters the water supply.”

- More than half of West Virginia residents believed that public health officials should give industrial facilities just one or two years to comply with new pollution standards. Less than 12% believe that plants should have 10 or more years to comply.

- A majority of West Virginia residents supported fining (37.7%) or shutting down (38%) facilities that cannot meet pollution standards in time. Only 3.2% supported relaxing the standards.

“What this survey shows is that West Virginians want corporations to live up to their responsibilities or face consequences,” said Rosser. “They want Governor Tomblin’s appointees to the Ohio River commission to uphold the reasonable rules already in place—not to scrap them because a handful of companies find them inconvenient.”

The survey results are available online at: