Philadelphia officials have assured residents that their tap water is safe to drink through Wednesday night, despite concerns raised after a chemical spill in the Delaware River.
According to a press release issued on Tuesday by Mayor Jim Kenney’s office, “Based on updated water sampling results received overnight, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) remains confident that tap water from the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant remains safe to drink and use at least through 11:59 p.m., Wednesday.”
Only a few miles upstream of a main water intake for Philadelphia’s Baxter Water Treatment Plant, an estimated 8,100 gallons of a water-soluble acrylic polymer solution was dumped into the Delaware River on Friday night.
The owner of the Trinseo PLC plant where the incident occurred blamed an “equipment failure” for the release. When a train carrying hazardous products derailed near East Palestine, Ohio last month, several pollutants were released into the environment. One of these was butyl acrylate.
The mayor of Philadelphia claims that, despite the chemical spill on Friday, no toxins have been discovered in any of the city’s water. The Philadelphia Water Department estimates that by Wednesday or Thursday, the river will be clean again.
Yet, many locals have rushed to supermarkets to stock up on bottled water. After originally encouraging people to drink bottled water as a precaution, many have expressed concerns about potential risks as well as frustration and bewilderment over officials’ repeated claims that the city’s water is safe.
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“Right now, I feel like it’s like a race. First come, first serve,” resident Karina Medina told CNN affiliate KYW-TV. “It’s sad because everybody needs water, and right now, I’m on my mission for water.”
“You just can’t take any chances nowadays,” resident Gerald Brown told CNN, explaining why he continues to buy water from the business. “You just gotta take care of your family. You gotta be sure .”
On Monday, authorities reminded residents that it is prudent to store enough water for three days if toxins are found in the city’s supply. The mayor suggested using tap water to fill water bottles and pitchers.
I encourage residents who want to make sure they have water available to fill bottles or pitchers of tap water and am confident that there is no risk at this time.
— Mayor Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) March 27, 2023
Joe Sole, a Philadelphia resident said that he is now more hesitant to trust official explanations after hearing accounts from East Palestine residents who say they have experienced health difficulties as a result of the leak.
“We’re afraid to drink the regular water,” Sole said. “I don’t trust the city.”
The city’s deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure, and sustainability, Michael Carroll, admitted that there was cause for concern, but added that the chemicals had not been found in the water supply. The “potential for contamination is diminishing over time,” he continued.
“Butyl acrylate, in particular, is a chemical that was identified in the spill in East Palestine. So, we understand there are some known health effects and their established thresholds in terms of the parts per billion that the EPA feels are safe,” Carroll said Sunday.
The Baxter facility does not supply water to every home in Philadelphia. Both of the city’s other treatment plants get their water supply from the Schuylkill River, which the city claims were unaffected by the spill.
The Government Responds to Citizen Complaints
Several locals are confused because on Sunday at 2 p.m., municipal officials issued a cell phone alert advising residents to start using bottled water. Yet, later that afternoon, officials said that water from the Baxter plant was safe to consume until at least Monday night.
Officials said they updated the advice on Sunday because they wanted to err on the side of caution after sending out the initial advice. Some Philadelphians, however, believed their trust in government officials had been shaken by the rapid pace at which information about the tragedy was being disseminated.
“They sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Sole said. “They don’t sound confident in what they’re telling us.” Carroll said on Monday that it is a “difficult thing to balance” communications about the leak.
“Everything we have done to communicate with the public has been done in the interest of both transparency and out of an abundance of care and caution to make sure our people are safe,” Carroll said.
On Monday, Kenney assured the public that authorities are working “around the clock” to contain the spill and prevent it from posing a threat to human health.
“We understand the legitimate concern that is felt by the public as the release of chemicals into our waterways can pose a major threat to our health and safety,” the mayor said in a statement.
60,000 Gallons of Polluted Water Gathered
After the leak, the US Coast Guard gathered at least 60,000 gallons of contaminated water.
Despite reports of a white cloud, the Coast Guard claimed it saw no evidence of the leaking product while patrolling the Delaware River on Sunday.
According to Trinseo, the spilled solution made its way to a nearby storm drain, from where it eventually made its way to Otter Creek and, from there, the Delaware River.
“Because the material is highly water soluble, and the release coincided with a period of rainfall, the material dissipated quickly in the water,” the company said in a release.
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Among the chemicals that spilled:
- According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, butyl acrylate is a potentially flammable colorless liquid with an unpleasant odor that can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.
- According to the CDC, ethyl acrylate might produce irritation symptoms in some people. These are common components in many different kinds of paints and glues.
- The manufacturing of acrylic polymers and resins frequently makes use of a colorless liquid with a fruity odor known as methyl methacrylate or MMA. The skin, eyes, nose, and throat can all get inflamed and irritated after being exposed to MMA. The polymer form of MMA is commonly utilized in dentistry.
Facility operations were halted after the incident, however, the business has stated that partial production will resume “within the next several days,” followed by a restoration to full production shortly thereafter.
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