BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In an epic flood like this one, containers lugging hazardous materials can be more hazardous than the materials.
Early in this siege, Cincinnati Fire Chief Tom Steidel went to his men on the boats and asked them what they needed.
''Rope,'' Chief Steidel said he was told.
''They needed it to secure all the vessels we've got floating out there.
''We're concerned about what hazardous material could be in those containers, but what we're really worried about is the containers themselves and what they might run into.
''There are some huge things out there.''
Chief Steidel gave each fireboat about 100 feet of rope as his firefighters chased everything from small household propane tanks to multimillion gallon semi-tankers in an effort to prevent leakage of hazardous materials.
He figures his firefighters have secured about 50 vessels, ranging from tanks to tankers.
''You can see it from a helicopter,'' Chief Steidel said. ''The oil slicks, petroleum spills. It's not going to kill anybody, but it's bad for the river, bad for the environment.''
Rodger Crauder, unit director for the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Material Unit, estimates his crews have secured about 100 such containers, mostly in New Richmond and Newtown.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says there have been 43 spills in the flooded areas, including five reports of drums or tanks floating or leaking.
''A lot of this is just household stuff, like tanks for your gas grill. Oil tanks,'' Mr. Crauder said.
''But you worry about people just picking up stuff like that floating into their yard, or something ending up in a surprise place.''
Earlier this week at Queen City Terminals Inc. in Columbia Tusculum, Chief Steidel had to deal with a tilting 250,000-gallon tanker filled with caustic soda. He figures the substance would have disappeared harmlessly into the water.
''But there were adjacent tanks with flammable materials,'' he said. ''What if the tank gets loose and rips off the piping from another tank?''
Thursday was the slowest day yet for chasing containers on the river, and officials expect more as the flood recedes.
But there is a sense of the unknown. Like the semi-tanker that surfaced around the Mill Creek.
''Don't know what's in it, I hope nothing,'' Mr. Crauder said. ''Who knows where it came from? But the key is to secure it.''