Cincinnati, OH

The levels of harmful bacteria in the Ohio River

Anita Durairaj
The river by CincinnatiPhoto by Matt Kofel on Unsplash

E.coli bacteria in the river is dangerous when it exceeds permissible levels

The Ohio River is 981 miles long. It is the third-largest river in the US and flows along the border of six states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

In 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency named the Ohio River as one of the most polluted rivers in the country. The river is full of toxic discharge, toxic algae, and E.coli bacteria.

A high E.coli count indicates that the water is contaminated with feces. When you swim in water with E.coli, you are exposing yourself to pathogens that can cause illness. Bacteria are present in the river the whole year round but their levels can change depending on the rain which causes sewers and overland runoffs to flush into the river.

ORSANCO is the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. The organization monitors the bacterial levels in the river during contact recreation season from the months of April 1st - October 31st.

ORSANCO releases a weekly Ohio River Water Quality Report. The weekly report provides basic water quality information about river conditions at six locations along the river including at Cincinnati.

The bacteria is also monitored at these six urban locations along the Ohio River. In Cincinnati, samples are collected upstream, and in downtown and downstream locations.

Ohio River Weekly Water Quality Report for Week of August 6, 2021

For this week, the water quality report in terms of bacterial levels looks good overall for all locations measured along the river. Last month (July 2021), there were certain locations where E.coli concentration were too high that swimming was not recommended.

In Cincinnati, the water quality report shows that the E.coli concentration is much less than 240 CFU/100ml which is great. The 240 CFU/100 ml is the cutoff. Any E.coli levels above this number would be harmful for swimmers.

Now these numbers could change and the E.coli levels could rise again next week when the next water quality report is released but for now, it looks like the bacteria are at bay.

ORSANCO maintains that there will always be a risk to swimming in the Ohio River even when bacterial levels are down. There are still other factors to consider such as river currents, debris and traffic from ships and boats.


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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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