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March 28, 2023

Philly's drinking water is safe and will not be impacted by chemical spill, officials say

Water sample tests and river flow models led to the conclusion that there is no further risk of contamination

Environment Water
Philly Water Safe Delaware River Chemicals Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia's drinking water is safe to consume and is no longer at risk of contamination from the Bucks County chemical spill that flowed into the Delaware River, city officials said Tuesday night.

Philadelphia's tap water is safe to drink and is no longer at risk of contamination from the chemical spill in Bucks County, city officials said Tuesday evening. 

Continuous water sample tests of the Delaware River, the raw basin and the reservoirs at the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant have not found any traces of the chemicals from the latex solution that burst from a pipe Friday at the Trinseo Altuglas facility in Bristol Township.

Models used by the Philadelphia Water Department now show that any remaining threat of contamination will pass beyond the Baxter plant, which serves tap water to a large portion of the city, officials said.

"I am grateful that no residents were exposed to unsafe chemicals in the city's tap water following the spill," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "This is a result of the swift action, caution and preparedness of city departments and partners as well as their commitment to ensuring the well-being and health of all Philadelphians."

The city's determination that the contamination threat has passed is based on water sample tests from Tuesday morning and hydraulic models that account for rainfall received in the Delaware River watershed over the last two days. Due to that rainfall, and the flow and tide of the river, the water department is confident that there are no detectable levels of butyl acrylate, ethel acrylate and methyl methacrylate. Those chemicals were in the latex solution that spilled into Otter Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River. 

More than 100 water samples have been taken at various sites over the last several days and run through a battery of scientific tests to conclude there is no evident threat to the public.

Out of caution, the water department will continue to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to monitor the river and the Baxter plant for signs of spill-related material. The results of water quality samples will be shared with the public as they become available, but no further city advisories on the chemical spill are planned at this time. 

The water department also will turn its attention to infrastructure priorities and other long-term measures that may be necessary to ensure preparedness in the event of future chemical spills, officials said. 

Between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons of the latex emulsion spilled from the containment facility at the Trinseo Altuglas plant before midnight Friday. Over the weekend, uncertainty about the ramifications of the spill initially led city officials to advise the public to purchase bottled water until the tap water could be deemed safe. That led to panic buying of bottled water at grocery stores throughout the region and prompted criticism of the city's response. 

Since the spill, the water department closed and reopened the Baxter plant's intakes several times to keep reserves on hand while conducting water sample tests. The Baxter plant is one of three main water treatment facilities that provide tap water to residents. It was the only facility at risk of possible contamination, since the others are served by the Schuylkill River. The city's tap water remained safe for the public to drink at all times over the past several days, officials said. 

An investigation into the spill in Bucks County is being led by the state DEP. More than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Trinseo Altuglas plant, which makes a variety of industrial products that contain latex polymers, to be shut down. 

"Trinseo is conducting an internal review of our facility and will take the steps necessary to address any issues we identify," a company spokesperson said. "In the meantime, we will continue to do all we can to assist in a thorough assessment of environmental impacts."