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Strict Protocol in Place for Emergencies in Northern Panhandle Should Chemical Spill Occur

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WHEELING, W.Va -

The recent chemical spill in southern West Virginia has brought the question to many residents' minds of what the Ohio Valley would do in a similar situation.

Officials say communication is key when it comes to handling any kind of emergency, and there's small window of time in which a spill needs to be reported so local agencies can take the necessary steps to prevent further contamination.


Ohio County Health Department Director, Howard Gamble, estimates that if a spill were to occur in Warwood, for example, it would need to be reported within twenty five minutes. The city's intake valves could then be shut off so no contaminated water would enter the system.

"If you can identify what chemical is in the spill, you can measure it through testing," Gamble says. "If they turn off valves in Wheeling, other plants at different locations can begin to test the water for how concentrated the chemical is. At what point downstream is it dissipated enough that we don't have to worry can also be tested."

How fast a chemical travels depends on water currents and the solubility of the chemical. 

The County Emergency Operations Center would be activated immediately. This is where all county leaders gather to form an action plan. Ohio County Emergency Management Director, Lou Vargo, says he and many other local agencies have a good idea of what hazardous materials are in the county.

"Every facility that stores, manufactures, or transports hazardous materials that meets the EPA guidelines are required to report annually to the local fire department, the county EMA, the local Emergency Planning Committee and the State Emergency Response Committee," he says. 

A water conservation order would also be put in place. Vargo estimates the city has about a two day supply of water in reserves. 

"Emergency managers always talk about preparedness," Vargo says. "This is a key example of why everyone should have a gallon of water per person for a three day period. Don't forget to have water for your pets."