Ohio River Algae Advisory Resurfaces

Health department issues new river warning

Wheeling Intelligencer
28 August 2015
By Joselyn King & Linda Comins, Staff Writers

WHEELING - The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is again cautioning boaters and swimmers about activities on the Ohio River after more blue-green algae blooms were found on the river Wednesday.

Despite this caution, dragon boat races slated for Saturday in Wheeling will go on at Heritage Port as planned, according to organizers. Participants will be given hand sanitizer and other precautions will be taken.

Additionally, officials at the Wheeling Water Plant say they are continuing to add river water to the water system, and they don't expect to issue any water conservation advisories.

Boats sit idle Thursday on the Ohio River. Local health officials are urging caution after more algae was found in the river this week.

Water samples were gathered Wednesday by the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission above the Pike Island Locks and Dam. ORSANCO reported seeing less noticeable algae than what was observed last week, though some significant blooms were noticed in waterways entering the river.

Sampling is now being conducted below the Pike Island Locks and Dam area, ending in New Martinsville. Significant blooms were seen near the back channel of Wheeling Island and near McMahon Creek.

The dragon boat races in Wheeling Saturday are a first-time event, and a fundraiser for King's Daughters Child Care Center in Wheeling.

"The race is going to go on," event organizer Jamie Remp said. "We're taking all of the precautions. We'll have hand sanitizer for the participants."

Remp said Howard Gamble, administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, met with the dragon boat committee Thursday afternoon, and members are working closely with him.

Gamble said more information about the algae advisory will be coming later in the week after additional testing is completed, and directives could change.

For now, he said the health department is not in the position to tell the race organizers they should cancel their event, but he did suggest to them three options to help participants stay safe.

The first was to provide a wash-off station with clean water at the port. The water can be used to hose down participants and their boats and belongings before they leave for home.

His second suggestion was to provide hand sanitizer to participants, as hands become contaminated quicker than others parts of the body. Hand sanitizer should be used before touching any water bottles or food at the event, according to Gamble.

Thirdly, he advises participates to "wash everything" from clothes, to shoes to equipment when they get home.

Water samples first taken by ORSANCO and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 19 at Pike Island showed elevated levels of blue-green algae, also known as Cyanobacteria. The formation of the algae on the river has been attributed to hard rain storms on the morning of Aug. 18.

The algae was found near the intakes for the Wheeling Water Plant, and officials there closed the intakes to keep river water from entering the water system. The system operated on its wells through Aug. 21, when samples indicated the algae was dissipating from the river water.

Testing this week indicated the algae returned, though at a lesser level.

Water plant employees said Thursday they had not closed the intakes, and had no immediate plans to do so or issue a water conservation order. They said they learned last week the water system can operate for an extended time on just its wells.