CINCINNATI (AP) - UPDATE 6/7/2019 5:05 P.M.
A commission that watches over the Ohio River's health across six states has voted to make some of its pollution standards for the river voluntary.
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission approved the change Thursday. It allows states along the river to decide whether to opt out of the additional regional water quality standards already in place.
Several environmental groups say they're worried that changes to the standards could weaken water quality protection for the river that provides drinking water for 5 million people.
The National Wildlife Federation says the standards help make sure states don't harm areas of the river that are downstream.
Supporters of the changes say they won't affect water quality and point out that the federal Clean Water Act already sets standards for the river.
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Monday is the last day for public comment, on a proposal by the Ohio River Water Sanitation Commission, to make voluntary some of its river pollution standards.
The proposal is a revision of the commission's original intent to move away from its role of setting pollution standards for the river.
It notes the federal Clean Air Act already sets standards for the river.
Nonetheless, environmental groups are concerned about how voluntary standards would affect water quality.
"The proposal would simply give states flexibility to utilize criteria as needed," says ORSANCO Executive Director Richard Harrison, "but it would still keep our review (process) to make sure permits would not ultimately affect the water quality of the Ohio River."
"If standards are relaxed in upstream states: Pennsylvania, Northern Ohio, West Virginia included, we are concerned there would be an increase in pollutants in the Ohio River," says Robin Blakeman, Project Coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Harrison says if the changes go into effect, the organization will continue to monitor water quality.
Public comments on the plan will be accepted until midnight at orsanco.org.