Philadelphia officials closely monitor drinking water after a chemical spill in the Delaware River
The City of Philadelphia is monitoring its drinking water system carefully following a chemical spill upstream in the Delaware River, and said the water would be safe to drink until at least the end of the day Monday.
Three different chemicals leaked into the river when a latex product spilled on Friday, but none have so far been detected in Philadelphia’s water system, city officials say.
The city earlier sent out mobile phone push alerts recommending area residents use of bottled water from 2 p.m. on Sunday due to the spill, but officials told a news conference late Sunday afternoon they were confident tap water from the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant would remain safe to drink until at least 11:59 p.m. Monday.
They said butyl acrylate, ethyl acrylate and methyl methacrylate had spilled into the Delaware River.
“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,” Michael Carroll, Philadelphia’s deputy managing director for transportation, infrastructure and sustainability told reporters. He said the water would continue to be monitored.
“Again, I want to reiterate, we have not detected any of these contaminants in our water and will continue to use that as our first basis for any decision-making that we make,” Carroll said.
“We have enough water to sustain a safe use for drinking, cooking – all purposes – through till at least 11:59 p.m., Monday, March 27,” he said. “The potential for contamination is diminishing over time.”
The city said in a statement its advice on the tap water’s safety had been updated “based on the time it will take river water that entered the Baxter intakes early Sunday morning to move through treatment and water mains before reaching customers.”
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 acrid odor which can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory system. Ethyl acrylate can cause irritation symptoms depending on exposure, the CDC says. Both are often used in the manufacturing of paints and adhesives.
Methyl methacrylate, sometimes called MMA, is a colorless liquid with a fruity odor often used in the production of acrylic plastics and resins. Exposure to MMA can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat as well as skin inflammation. The polymer version of MMA is often used in dental applications.
The Philadelphia Police Department and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had conducted a flyover across the Delaware River and saw no visual evidence of contamination plumes, Carroll told reporters Sunday.
“In this case, because we were talking about essentially ingredients that go into latex paint, we would have been able to see a kind of white plume under the river surface,” he said.
The Coast Guard said in a statement Sunday night 60,000 gallons of contaminated water had been collected from the chemical spill.
“Clean-up is primarily focused on removing product from the storm drain system and outflow located on Mill Creek,” the statement reads.
Coast Guard pollution responders conducted shoreline patrols Sunday morning and observed no visible product along the Delaware River, the statement reads. The Coast Guard said it had not received any calls reporting injured or affected wildlife.
Carroll earlier said in a statement the contamination occurred Friday night and involved a latex product which spilled along a Delaware River tributary in Bristol Township, Bucks County.
“The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) became aware of this through the Delaware Valley Early Warning System (EWS) and has been evaluating the situation since that time to understand potential impacts to the public,” the statement reads.
Trinseo PLC, which owns the facility where the spill occurred, said in a statement on its website Sunday it “appears to be the result of equipment failure” at the Bristol, Pennsylvania, plant, which manufactures acrylic resins.
The company estimated 8,100 gallons of solution – which is half water and half latex polymer – was spilled.
“The latex emulsion is a white liquid that is used in various consumer goods. Its pigmentation makes the water-soluble material visible in surface water,” Trinseo said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said an “unknown amount” of the spilled product had entered the Delaware River. Fish and wildlife are said to have not been affected, according to the statement.
“Since the first hours after the incident, the Department of Environmental Protection has been at the facility where the spill originated and will be staying until there is no longer a threat to those impacted in Bucks and Philadelphia counties,” the department’s acting secretary Rich Negrin said in the statement. “We are working closely with our partners to monitor the spread of the contaminants and we will hold the responsible party accountable.”
On its website, the Philadelphia Water Department said it provides water to more than “2 million people in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, and Bucks counties.”
It is posting updates on the spill to a community website.