- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - Papermaker Verso Corp. said Monday that the chemical compound that spilled into the Potomac River last week from its western Maryland mill, prompting at least one town to close its drinking-water intake, was a synthetic form of latex that poses no allergy threat to people sensitive to natural rubber.

The compound, styrene-butadiene, is not defined as a hazardous chemical under federal workplace regulations. Both styrene and butadiene have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers in work areas with high exposure, according to a study published in the December 2005 issue of the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The Maryland Department of the Environment said the information it has seen does not indicate a health concern. The agency said it is obtaining more information, including data from water sampling, but it believes water treatment plants will be able to remove the substance.

No fish kills have been reported, the agency said.

The spill occurred Wednesday when a worker for the Memphis, Tennessee-based company failed to close a drain line on a 26,500-gallon storage tank that was being filled from a railroad tank car at the mill in Luke, about 200 miles upstream from Washington, D.C., Verso spokeswoman Kathi Rowzie said.

Over the next three hours, nearly 10,000 gallons of a 50-50 mixture of water and styrene-butadiene, a rubbery compound used as a paper coating, poured into the mill’s sewer and through a wastewater treatment plant into the Potomac’s North Branch, Rowzie said.

The spill prompted the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, to close its water intake Sunday before the milky green plume arrived. The town, with the first municipal water intake downstream from the spill, stored enough water to supply its 240 customers until Tuesday morning, when the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin estimates the plume will have passed.

“Our health department here in West Virginia is going to be taking samples tomorrow and evaluating,” said Jim Turner, the town’s chief water plant operator.

Interstate commission spokesman Curtis Dalpra said the plume will become increasingly diluted as it reaches other water intakes over the next two weeks serving communities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and finally Washington, D.C.

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