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Foamy substance prompts Wheeling intake shutoff

WHEELING, W.Va. — A foamy, brown substance discovered on a tributary of the Ohio River forced Wheeling to switch to well water Sunday and early Monday.

Bob Fowler, Brooke County director of emergency management, said the substance is believed to have been caused by the decay of leaves and other organic material on the water and was found on Buffalo Creek beyond the Pennsylvania border as well as in other creeks in the county. It appeared that a large amount of the substance had dissipated late Monday.

He said the recent, unseasonably warm temperatures may have been a contributing factor.

Fowler said a sample was collected by the county’s health department and sent to a Columbus lab for analysis. Results are expected within a couple days, he said.

Lloyd Van Horn, a member of the Hammond Public Service District board, said he reported the foam to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources after observing it on the creek near his home.

“It just looked like a big styrofoam mattress that somebody ripped apart,” he said, adding the thick foam was brownish with a slight green tint visible upon closer inspection. “I contacted the experts because I wasn’t sure what it was.”

After assessing the situation, DNR officials notified water officials downstream, including in Wheeling.

Dave Nickerson, Wheeling water division supervisor, was at the Pike Island Locks and Dam Monday morning in an attempt to see if the substance could be seen on the river near the facility. However, foggy conditions on the river made it difficult to determine if the substance was present on the water or if it had dissipated.

“They were going to talk to a barge pilot who was on the river this morning to see if he noticed anything,” Jebbia said Monday. “In the meantime, we have the intakes shut down and we are treating well water since yesterday. We are monitoring our water tanks to keep them full in case of a fire. … We are working on the side of safety, using the wells.” he said.

The city is in the process of seeking two additional well sites to have as backup water sources for the city in the future. In September, the city’s water supply was compromised by a large algae bloom in the river. At that time, the city also utilized its backup wells for water.

Meanwhile, discovery of the substance led officials with the Hammond Public Service District to shut down its water plant for a period, then switch to water supplied by the Wellsburg and Ohio County Public Service District.

The district, which serves about 930 residents of southern Brooke County using treated water from the creek, issued a boil order after switching to the Ohio County lines and newly installed lines linking Hammond to Wellsburg.

The order hadn’t been lifted as of late Monday.

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