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Barge containing Methonal removed from Ohio River, no leaks detected

The U.S. Coast Guard has halted all river traffic downbound as crews work to safely transfer the methanol from one of the barges knocked loose last week.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Only one barge remains stuck on the Ohio River at the McAlpine Dam near Louisville. Several barges were released last week after a "navigation incident."

On Friday, officials confirmed the barge carrying more than 1,400 tons of liquid methanol has been removed from the river with no leaks.

Crews transferred the chemical from the barge to a "receiver vessel." The transfer was part of an approved salvage plan to recover the last two barges knocked loose into the Ohio River near Louisville.

"The tank barge was successfully removed as of 3 p.m. this afternoon," officials said. "Salvage experts determined that enough methanol had been transferred to safely pull the stranded tank barge off the McAlpine Dam structure."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Louisville District said the incident started around 2 a.m. on March 28.

Initially, the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet reported a total of 10 out of 11 barges got loose from a tug boat.

The barge carrying methanol was partially submerged at the dam site. The other barges were carrying soy and corn.

Officials said all other barges were recovered and are accounted for.

Liquid methanol is dangerous to humans, however, at this time, officials say there is no evidence of any leaks in the barge.

Officials say more than 2,700 air quality samples have been taken during the incident; all showing no detection of Methanol.

Water testing collected from all five locations downriver has also shown no signs of a leak, they said.

The barges are owned by Ingram Barge Company. CEO John Roberts said the company remains committed to ensuring the safety of the community.

"Although we were not the operator when this occurred, those are our barges out there on that dam," he said. "We are going to be responsible for getting them off in a safe manner. We are committed to doing what it takes to make that right."

Roberts said the Ohio River's high water level was making it difficult for crews to recover it.

While it will likely take some time to recover the barges, salvage crews said it probably wouldn't take months, as has been the case in other incidents. 

River traffic has resumed with restrictions to protect salvage crews.

Captain Heather Mattern, with the U.S. Coast Guard, said the agency is still investigating what led up to the barges getting loose in the first place. 

What's the potential environmental impact?

Although the barge carrying 1,400 tons of liquid methanol has not leaked, officials are preparing for a worst-case scenario.

"We are focused on safety," Greenberg said. "We are preparing for any possible result."

Rob Blair, an environmental scientist with Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, said if there were a catastrophic leak some of the methanol would dissolve into the Ohio River.

Since the chemical is volatile, some of the "off-gas" produced would enter into the atmosphere. He said the leak could impact water 15 miles downstream.

The biggest concern would be the impact on aquatic life, and we could see fish kills. 

Blair said the closest drinking water intakes are Henderson, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana, although those are more than 200 miles downstream.

"By then we wouldn't have any concerns with impacts to drinking water," he said.

Is Louisville's drinking water safe?

Louisville Water said it is aware of the situation, which is playing out downriver from the water company's intake.

"There is no impact to Louisville Water's water intake or water quality," they said. "Your water is safe to drink."

According to Kentucky's Emergency Response Team, the nearest water intake is in Henderson, Kentucky.

Officials are continuing water and air quality tests until the final barges have been recovered.

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