Updated Mar 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

What to know about Philadelphia drinking water after chemical spill

 Sold out water section in Giant Supermarket in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa., on March 26, 2023.

Sold out water section in Giant Supermarket in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa., on March 26. Photo: Thomas Hengge/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Philadelphia officials say the city's water will be safe to drink until at least midnight Wednesday following a chemical spill in the Delaware River, which supplies nearly 60% of the city's water.

Driving the news: No contaminants related to the Bristol Township discharge have been found in Philadelphia's water system, the city's water department said Tuesday morning in an update.

  • "Customers can fill bottles or pitchers with tap water with no risk," the Philadelphia Water Department added.
  • The Philadelphia Water Department will keep testing the water "to assure that no contaminated water was brought into our water treatment system," the city said in a Monday evening update.
  • "A conservative estimate allows PWD to expect that this event will be completely resolved by next week," the city added.

What we know about the chemical spill

A chemical spill took place late Friday at a Trinseo PLC plant as a result of what the company said appeared to be "an equipment failure."

  • The company said that about 8,100 gallons of a water-soluble acrylic polymer solution flowed into Otter Creek, which is a tributary of the Delaware River.
  • Latex emulsion is about 50% water and 50% percent latex polymer, per Trinseo. Butyl acrylate, which is one of the chemicals released from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was among the materials released, per the New York Times.
  • "Some of the material overflowed the on-site containment system and entered a storm drain, where it flowed to Otter Creek and then to the Delaware River," Trinseo said.
  • In addition to Pennsylvania, the Delaware River basin provides water to Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.

What city officials are saying

Philadelphia officials initially told residents Sunday afternoon in a text alert that they should consider using bottled water "out of an abundance of caution."

  • Officials then changed course Sunday evening and said that residents could use tap water for drinking and cooking.
  • "Testing has not shown the presence of water impacted by the spill in the Baxter system at this time," officials said in a 3:30pm update on Sunday.
  • The Philadelphia Department of Environmental Protection also said Sunday that "contaminants have not been detected at drinking water intakes at this time."
  • On Monday evening, officials maintained that tap water was safe — at least until Tuesday at 3:30pm local time.
  • "I want to reiterate there was never any contamination in [the] Philadelphia Water Department system. There was contamination in the Delaware River, but we shut off the intake for the river and we're operating off of water that was not contaminated," an official said during a press briefing Monday at 5pm.

How Philly residents are reacting

Residents rushed to stores to stock up on water bottles after the city's first alert on Sunday.

  • Sayed Ahmad, whose family owns the local grocery chain Cousin’s Fresh Market, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that all four of his family's stores were out of water bottles within two hours of the Sunday alert.
  • The customers "were not buying ‘It is safe right now,’" Ahmad told the Inquirer. "They were panicking. They were confused."
  • Water is still available at Acme supermarkets, which has 17 stores in Philly, spokesperson Dana Ward told Axios' Michael D'Onofrio.
  • Acme has been making extra water deliveries to its stores since the bottled water advisory on Sunday and has the potential to truck in more, she said.
  • The store’s officials continue to monitor the situation.
  • “We’re in stock. We’re in business. We’ll keep delivering until we don’t need to anymore,” Ward said.

What to watch: The Philadelphia Water Department "continues to test the water to assure that no contaminated water will be brought into our water system."

  • The department will provide updates as additional sampling data becomes available.

Go deeper: East Palestine's record of devastating derailments

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information throughout.

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