Philadelphia tells residents to consider bottled water after chemical spill

Assurances from city officials did little to quell a rush to buy bottled water. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

PHILADELPHIA - Officials in Philadelphia on Sunday suggested residents consider using bottled water rather than tap water for drinking and cooking after a chemical spill into a tributary of the Delaware River, a source of drinking water for about 14 million people across four states.

A pipe ruptured at Trinseo, a chemical plant, late on Friday, sending about 30,662 litres of a water-soluble acrylic polymer solution into Otter Creek in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, officials said.

“Contaminants have not been found in our water system at this time,” said Mr Michael Carroll, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure and sustainability, at a news conference on Sunday morning.

However, he said, “we cannot be 100 per cent sure that there will not be traces of these chemicals in the tap water”, adding that a low level of exposure would not endanger human health.

The assurances from city officials did little to quell a rush to buy bottled water, videos on social media showed.

Local television news also showed residents emptying grocery shelves of bottled water on Sunday afternoon.

The spill appeared to result from an equipment failure, Trinseo said in a statement.

Company representatives could not immediately be reached for further comment on Sunday.

“It’s like the material you find in paint,” Mr Tim Thomas, a vice-president at the Trinseo chemical plant, told WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.

“It’s your typical acrylic paint you have in your house. That’s what really this material is, in a water base.”

Philadelphia’s water system serves about two million people in the city and surrounding counties, sourcing more than half of it from the Delaware River basin.

The Delaware River also supplies water to Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said on-site water samples had not detected any contaminants.

As of Sunday morning, “no additional product was leaving the facility and entering the Delaware River”, the agency said.

Still, the United States Coast Guard, which also responded to the spill, said people should avoid the site where clean-up operations were underway.

Mr Carroll said there were no concerns over skin exposure to the chemical or of a fire hazard.

“Bathing and washing dishes do not present a concern,” he said.

“Likewise, we have no concern over inhaling fumes at the levels we are evaluating.”

In an update on Sunday evening, Mr Carroll said that tidal conditions and rain on Saturday should help the river “flush itself out” into the Delaware Bay. NYTIMES

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