updated 2/28/2007 4:54:45 PM ET 2007-02-28T21:54:45

Thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical spilled into the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky after a barge hit a lock wall, environmental officials said Wednesday.

Up to 8,000 gallons of a petroleum-based substance called cumene poured into the water after the accident occurred between Brookport and Metropolis, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson said.

Authorities at the scene Wednesday afternoon still were trying to assess the severity of the spill and the hazards it could pose, she said.

Company says little human risk
The company that owns the barge, Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine said the barge hit a guide wall of a lock Tuesday night. State officials said earlier it had run aground.

Company spokesman Mark Buese downplayed the severity of the incident, saying the spill should not pose a health risk to area residents.

"I would say it's not particularly dangerous," he said. "Any spill is serious. ... but my answer would be that there would not be a risk to human health."

State park closed
As a precaution, local authorities had also requested the closure of Fort Massac State Park, near the spill site, Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

Cumene, also called isopropyl benzene, is used in the manufacture of chemicals such as phenol and acetone. Breathing cumene can cause headaches and dizziness and irritate the eyes, nose and throat; it also can be damaging to animals directly exposed to it.

The barge was en route from the Gulf of Mexico coast to a port somewhere in the Midwest, though Buese did not know its precise destination. He said no one was injured in the accident and that its cause was under investigation.

The Kentucky Department of Highways said Wednesday it was restricting traffic to one lane westbound on the Interstate 24 Ohio River Bridge to enable environmental officials to set up an air monitoring station on the bridge.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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