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Pollution Control Standards

ORSANCO sets Pollution Control Standards for industrial and municipal waste water discharges to the Ohio River, and tracks certain dischargers whose effluent can seriously impact water quality. The standards designate specific uses for the Ohio, and establish guidelines to ensure that the river is capable of supporting these uses. To keep pace with current issues, ORSANCO reviews the standards every three years. As part of the review process, workshops and public hearings are held for public input. For frequently asked questions about the Pollution Control Standards, click here:FAQ's

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Send your contact information to: info@orsanco.org



I.   FirstEnergy Pleasants Power Station variance applications: 

     Variance Application - 05-15-14

     Variance Application - 08-01-14

     Variance Application - 11-26-14


II.  Mountain State Carbon, LLC variance application:

     Variance Application - 01-20-15


III. Valley Converting Company, Inc variance application:

     Variance Application - 01-26-2015





The Commission is accepting public comments, technical scientific studies, and data supporting those comments, now through May 9, 2014, to assist in a new review and update of its current Pollution Control Standards for discharges to the Ohio River – 2013 Revision. The purpose of the public comment period is to receive input from interested parties on all aspects of the standards which will be considered by the Commission in developing a set of items for possible revision. ORSANCO is particularly interested in receiving technical and scientific information or data that supports comments on proposals for revising the Standards.


Initial Set of Issues Already Identified:

1) Duration (allowable frequency of exceedance) of all water quality criteria:

The Pollution Control Standards contain over 130 individual water quality criteria for the protection of Ohio River beneficial uses. Some of these criteria specify durations over which those criteria should not be exceeded, such as "never to be exceeded" or not to be exceeded as a monthly geometric mean, while most of the criteria do not have any duration associated with them. In cases where duration is specified, we want to ensure that the duration is appropriate, and in cases where no duration is specified, we want to apply an appropriate duration (or allowable frequency of exceedance). Such information will better assist states in developing their NPDES permits utilizing the Commission’s criteria.

2) Total Mercury water quality criterion -- 0.012 ug/L:

The Standards include a total mercury water quality criterion (as specified above) that is applied with a duration "never to be exceeded." This criterion is in place to protect against undesirable bioaccumulation of methylmercury in fish tissue which occurs over time, not instantaneously as might be suggested by a "never to be exceeded" duration. The Standards also include a 0.3 mg/Kg methylmercury fish tissue criterion. Both of these criteria were adopted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) National Recommended Water Quality Criteria. Since ORSANCO adopted these criteria, the USEPA has dropped their 0.012 ug/L total mercury water quality criterion. In addition, some of the mainstem states have total mercury water quality criteria that are different than ORSANCO’s. Because the states utilize the 0.012 ug/L total mercury water quality criterion in developing their NPDES permit limits, the Commission wants to ensure that its total mercury water quality criterion is appropriately protective of the 0.3 mg/Kg fish tissue methyl mercury criterion.

3) Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) water quality criterion -- 500 mg/L:

The Commission adopted a water quality criterion for total dissolved solids in 2011 (500 mg/L). This criterion has a scientific basis as a secondary drinking water regulation (nuisance chemical) for protecting the aesthetic value of finished drinking water. At the same time, drinking water utilities have difficulty in removing total dissolved solids from their source water supplies. ORSANCO recently completed a study of total dissolved solids in the Ohio River which is now available on its website. It found that the Ohio River did not exceed the 500 mg/L standard over the study period. At the same time, the Standards already include water quality criteria for certain components of total dissolved solids such as sulfate and chloride. As such, there is some question as to the need for the total dissolved solids water quality criterion, and the Commission took an action to review this criterion after the above mentioned study was completed.

4) E. coli water quality criteria – 130 per 100 mL as 90-day GM; 240 per 100 mL in 25 percent of samples:

In 2012, the Commission adopted the above referenced E. coli criteria for the protection of the contact recreational use of the Ohio River. E. coli is an indicator of fecal pollution which can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans. These criteria were based on USEPA’s draft recommended criteria for the protection of human health at beaches. ORSANCO adopted the draft criteria into the Standards before USEPA’s criteria were final, and ultimately, the USEPA adopted as final a different set of criteria. As a result, the current E. coli criteria are less stringent than all of the states’ criteria and possible less stringent than USEPA’s new recommended criteria. As such, the Commission is proposing to review its E. coli criteria.

5) Temperature water quality criterion (human health) – 110 deg F:

In 2012, a temperature criterion of 110 deg. F was adopted for the protection of human health due to burns from body contact. This criterion applies as a maximum temperature not to be exceeded "at any location where public access is possible." A temperature work group had originally recommended a criterion of 116.5 deg. F based on a literature review of research that indicated it would protect children from second degree burns during an eight minute exposure. The ORSANCO Pollution Control Standards Committee decided that the Standards should be protective to a greater safety level than second degree burns. As such, the 110 deg. F criterion was selected based on a safety guidance value considered by Pennsylvania in their NPDES permitting process. The Commission’s Power Industry Advisory Committee has questioned this criterion and has requested a review.

6) Ammonia water quality criterion (aquatic life) – pH and temperature dependent:

USEPA has adopted new ammonia criteria for the protection of aquatic life in their National Recommended Water Quality Criteria. These new criteria are more stringent than ORSANCO’s current criteria and are based on certain sensitive mussel species. The USEPA has also developed guidance for developing site-specific ammonia criteria for the protection of aquatic life. The Commission may consider whether these criteria are more appropriate than the current criteria.

7) Prohibition of Mixing Zones for Bioaccumulative Chemicals Of Concern (BCCs):

In 2003, ORSANCO adopted a prohibition on mixing zones for bioaccumulative chemicals of concern to take effect in 2013. The prohibition was based on the Great Lakes Initiative standards which provided a rationale that hot spots containing BCCs could occur due to the long hydraulic retention times in the Great Lakes (on the order of years), resulting in undesirable bioaccumulation of these BCCs in fish tissue. As the 2013 date approached for ORSANCO’s prohibition to take effect, it became a concern that numerous discharges might not be able to meet this requirement at any time in the near future. Coupled with the question about the total mercury water quality criterion (discussed above), which is a BCC, the prohibition on mixing zones for BCCs was extended to October 16, 2015 to allow time for a review of its applicability to the Ohio River, which does not have hydraulic retention times nearly on the order of years.

8) Numeric Nutrient Criteria:

ORSANCO has been collecting data and working towards the development of numeric nutrient criteria for about a decade, but has not made substantial progress due to the numerous complexities associated with nutrients-related water quality and biological degradation. Most states have had similar difficulties in developing numeric nutrient criteria for their rivers and streams. More recently, ORSANCO has completed some initial work on macroinvertebrate-nutrient relationships that may prove to aid in the development of nutrient criteria which will be pursued over the near term. In addition, USEPA Headquarters has recently increased its efforts to assist the states in this area which may also be beneficial.


Informational Webinars:

Two informational webinars will be held to support the public in developing comments and to answer technical or procedural questions. These webinars will be held on Tuesday, April 8 at 4:00 PM (eastern) and Thursday, April 24 at 6:00 PM (eastern). The webinars will include a short presentation followed by a question and answer period. If you are unable to attend either webinar, a full audio and video copy of each will be recorded and available on this webpage in the days following the webinar date.  Questions can be directed to ORSANCO at 513-231-7719.

Instructions for Webinar Participation:

1) Participation in webinars requires simultaneous access to the internet and a telephone.

2) Open your Internet browser.

3) Enter in the address http://orsanco.conferencinghub.com/CBmeet/PCS

4) This will redirect you to Welcome to PCS Webinar page.

5) Click on Guest tab.

6) Enter in your Name and Email Address

7) Click on join meeting (you do not need to check the box "Register Me")

8) Once connected to the meeting page a dialog box will appear that says "Call my Phone".

9) Enter your phone number and extension

10) Then click on the Connect Me button.

11) The automated system will call your phone number so you are connected to the audio portion of the presentation.

12) If you are unable to have the system call you, then you may call into the system by clicking on "Dial In" and following those directions.

13) Note: Our webinar software is tested before, during, and after each webinar presentation.  Any connectivity issues may be related to your personal hardware and/or software.  A full audio and video copy of the presentation will be recorded and available on this webpage in the days following the webinar date.


Instructions for Submitting Comments (must be received by May 9, 2014):

All parties interested in submitting comments may do so by mail or email. Mailed comments should be addressed to ORSANCO, 5735 Kellogg Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45230, Attn: PCS Comments. Emailed comments should be sent to PCS@orsanco.org. Emailed comments must be sent by the original submitter. Third party emails will not be accepted in order to protect data systems integrity.Comments must be included in the body of the email. Email attachments will not be accepted in order to protect data systems integrity.  Please contact ORSANCO directly at 513-231-7719 for instructions on submitting technical and scientific information or data since email attachments cannot be accepted. Your name and mailing address must accompany all correspondence.

Additional Resources:

Click here for April 8th Webinar powerpoint presentation (.pdf)

Click here for April 8th Webinar Audio (.mp3)

Click here to download this webpage content (.pdf)



Click here for 2013 Revision Pollution Control Standards (.pdf)
Click here for summary of 2013 revisions (.pdf)
Click here for response to public comment (.pdf)


The Commission may allow variances to certain provisions of its Pollution Control Standards, including its Prohibition on Mixing Zones for Bioaccumulative Chemicals of Concern (Chapter 4.F) and its Wastewater Discharge Requirements (Chapter 5).  A Variance Application and Review Process was adopted by the Commission at its February, 2013 Commission meeting.  This document contains the information necessary to apply for a variance.

Please click on the following link to obtain the document:
Variance Application and Review Process
Variance for Pollution Control Standards Fact Sheet (.pdf)

 PCS STANDARDS- Archived Standards

Review Process for Ohio River Pollution Control Standards

The Commission conducts a review of its Standards every three years. Each review consists of the following steps:

1. An initial comment period, in which comments are sought an all aspects of the Standards.
2. Consideration of the comments received and formulation of responses, including proposed revisions to the

3. Public review and comment on proposed revisions.
4. Consideration of comments on proposed revisions and Commission adoption of revisions.

Because the Commission carefully considers all comments received, in collaboration with its member states through several committees and technical work groups, the entire process usually takes approximately 20 months.