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Philadelphia's water 'safe to drink' through Tuesday afternoon after chemical spill

Philadelphia is seen across the Delaware River. Officials say the water is safe to drink — at least for Monday — after a latex finishing solution spilled into a Delaware River tributary late Friday.
Matt Rourke
Philadelphia is seen across the Delaware River. Officials say the water is safe to drink — at least for Monday — after a latex finishing solution spilled into a Delaware River tributary late Friday.

Updated March 27, 2023 at 7:13 PM ET

Philadelphia residents can continue to use and drink the city's tap water until at least 3:30 p.m. local time Tuesday following a chemical spill in the Delaware River, according to officials.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Michael Carroll — the city's deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure and sustainability — told reporters that the city's water quality is continuously being tested around the clock.

As of Monday afternoon, results have shown no contamination in Philadelphia's waters from the chemical spill, Carroll said.

"Your tap water is and remains safe," he said. "Use your water as you normally would."

City officials told reporters the containments from Sunday's spill should be clear from the Delaware River by Thursday.

On Sunday morning, the city told residents they might want to drink and cook with bottled water because officials couldn't be certain that 8,100 gallons of a latex finishing solution that spilled into a Delaware River tributary late Friday hadn't wended its way into the city's water supply, even though testing didn't show any contamination.

City officials would later correct this, assuring residents that the tap water was safe to drink Sunday afternoon and Monday — but not before the warning set off a minor panic and prompted droves of people to flood nearby grocery stores and bodegas, clearing the shelves of bottled water.

The city's water department said it has "analyzed a variety of samples from the river and raw water basin using infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography."

"We know residents are concerned, and we continue to respond to this situation as updated information comes in," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Sunday night. "I want to assure everyone: no contaminants have been found in our tap water system. At this time, Philly's tap water remains safe to drink."

A pipe rupture at a manufacturing plant in Bristol, just north of the city, caused the spill of chemicals including butyl acrylate, ethyl acrylate and methyl methacrylate, according to WHYY. Butyl acrylate, a clear liquid used to make paint and adhesives, was also among the hazardous materials released during the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February.

According to a map released by Philadelphia, more than half the city of 1.5 million people appeared to be potentially impacted, including all of South Philadelphia, Center City, North Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia.

The city's two other water treatment plants take water from the Schuylkill River and weren't affected by the chemical spill.

On the other side of the Delaware River, the utility New Jersey American Water said the chemical spill hadn't impacted the drinking water dispensed to three New Jersey counties by its treatment plant for the river.

Some Philadelphians criticized the mixed messaging from public officials on Sunday, while others found humor in the situation, poking fun at how some Philly natives pronounce the word water — wooder.

"Has anyone called it Woodergate yet?" one twitter user quipped. Another wondered: "Is this water's revenge for how we pronounce it?"

City officials told reporters they will continue to track the spill closely. They emphasized that they'll notify the public immediately if water quality sampling shows a potential effect on the river water entering the Baxter Water Treatment Plant in Northeast Philadelphia.

"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," Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
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