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Environment & Science

Bottled water advisory for Philadelphia residents following chemical spill in the Delaware River

philly supermarket - water.JPG
Maria Pulcinella
The bottled water section of a Whole Foods in the Philadelphia suburbs on Sunday. March 26, 2023.

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia residents are advised to drink bottled water until further notice after more than 8,000 gallons of hazardous material spilled into a creek near the Delaware River.

  • Philadelphia residents are advised to drink bottled water as a precautionary measure after over 8,000 gallons of hazardous material spilled into Otter Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River
  • Altuglas, a subsidiary of Trinseo PLC, has taken responsibility for the spill and is working with local and federal agencies to test the waterways and conduct cleanup efforts
  • The Baxter Water Treatment Plant in Northeast Philadelphia was temporarily closed but has since reopened to maintain minimum levels of water in the system

Officials said Sunday the advisory had been issued out of an “abundance of caution” and there are currently no signs of contamination in the Philadelphia water system.
“Because we cannot be 100% that there will not be traces of these chemicals in the tap water throughout the entire afternoon, we want the public to be aware so that people can consider switching to bottled water to further minimize any risks,” said Mike Carroll, the deputy managing director for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.

The spill of more than 8,000 gallons of a latex-finishing solution occurred just before midnight on March 24, according to thePhiladelphia Water Department and Office of Emergency Management.Officials have not said what caused the spill.

Altuglas, a subsidiary of Trinseo PLC, said an equipment failure at their plant in Bristol, led to a release that spilled into a storm sewer that flowed into Otter Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River. The company, which employs 110 people, says no employees were injured in the release.

“We are conducting a thorough assessment of all of our systems and processes to identify and address potential vulnerabilities and will take the steps necessary to close any gaps,” Trinseo CEO Frank Bozich said.” The release of material has been stopped and our efforts are now focused on testing the local waterways. We are grateful for the fast response and professionalism of our local first responders, as well as the efforts of the U.S. EPA, the Pennsylvania DEP and the United States Coast Guard.”

The chemicals released into the Delaware River include butyl acrylate, a flammable liquid used to make paints, coatings, caulks, sealants, and adhesives. The same chemical was also released into a river in East Palestine, Ohio as a result of theNorfolk Southern train derailment.

Two other chemicals released in the spill include Ethel acrylate andmethyl methacrylate, both are used in the manufacture of plastics and coatings like latex paint.

“Our best information is that people who ingest water will not suffer any near-term symptoms or any acute medical conditions,” Carroll said. “We foresee no need to seek medical attention related to this event. There is no concern over skin exposure or fire hazard. Likewise, we have no concern over inhaling any fumes at the levels we’re evaluating.”

The Delaware River is the drinking water source for millions of residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The bottled water advisory applies only to residents of Philadelphia who live east of the Schuylkill River. Neighborhoods west of the Schuylkill along with parts of Northwest Philadelphia, draw their drinking water supply from the Schuylkill, not the Delaware.

Officials said Saturday that the Baxter Water Treatment Plant in Northeast Philadelphia had been closed following the spill, but water intakes reopened at high tide early Sunday to maintain minimum levels of water in the system. Officials said it was needed to avoid any damage to equipment, and to supply water for essential needs, such as fire safety.

Coast Guard officials have advised the public to stay away from the contamination site as cleanup efforts are underway.

The water department has released a map showing the potentially impacted areas.