Chemical spill in Potomac River to reach Shepherdstown by Saturday

(THE PICKET)—Some 10,000 gallons of a latex chemical that was spilled into the Potomac River in Allegany County, Md., is expected to reach Shepherdstown around 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3.

The spill occurred Wednesday, Sept. 23, about 150 miles upstream from Shepherdstown. Initially predicted to reach Shepherdstown late next week, recent heavy rains have moved up its arrival.

In an effort to protect Shepherdstown’s water supply, shifts at the water plant have also been increased to ensure that tanks will be full as soon as they are needed. The plant will have two full days of water storage on hand once the chemical reaches the intake, and they will be pumping water from an emergency secondary source, which has been tested for contaminants.

The water being pulled from the secondary source has been tested and meets standards as being free of primary contaminants.

“We would like to assure our customers that the water is safe now and will continue to be safe while the intake is shutdown,” said Charles Coe, assistant chief operator of the water department.

The water department will be shutting down the Potomac River intake in Shepherdstown Thursday, Oct. 1, and using stored water and water from a secondary source to provide water for the community. The Shepherdstown intake from the river is to be reopened Friday, Oct. 9.

River 2
The entrance to the Potomac River at the Shepherdstown boat ramp off Princess Street. The intake wil be shut down Thursday, Oct. 1, and water will be taken from an emergency secondary source, which has been tested for contaminants, Charles Coe said. TODD BOWMAN/The Picket

The water department will be taking samples Wednesday, Oct. 7, and Thursday, Oct. 8, to make sure the contamination has completely passed the Shepherdstown intake before it reopens.

Once the chemical reaches Shepherdstown’s intake, it will presumably remain there for 116 hours—nearly five days—with the peak concentration penetrating the water 34 hours after it arrives, according to the latest model created by the Shepherdstown Water Department.

“We feel confident that the plan that we have constructed will get us through this incident safely,” Coe said.

The Verso paper mill in Luke, a small town in Allegany County, Md., is where the 10,000-gallon spill of a latex chemical originated.

Rain showers on Wednesday caused additional ripples in the Potomac River as Shepherdstown Water Department prepared for contaminated water to arrive from a spill in Western Maryland. TODD BOWMAN/The Picket

The spill occurred when a Verso worker didn’t close the drain line of a 26,500-gallon storage tank being filled from a railroad tank car, according to a recent Washington’s Top News article. According to Washington’s Top News, Verso spokeswoman Kathi Rowzi described the chemical as being a synthetic form of latex used to coat paper. The chemical is half water and half styrene-butadiene, the paper coating substance.

For more information, contact the Shepherdstown Water Department at 304-876-2394.

Check back with The Picket for posted updates as soon as we receive them.

Emily Daniels is a staff writer for The Picket. She can be reached at or followed on Twitter @emilykdaniels