Philadelphia officials advised residents they may want to switch to bottled water Sunday afternoon to avoid ingesting chemicals spilled into a tributary of the Delaware River in Bucks County Friday night.
While no contaminants have been found in Philadelphia’s water system, “we cannot be 100% certain there will not be traces of these chemicals in the tap water throughout the entire afternoon,” Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, said at a news conference Sunday morning.
The city’s Water Department released a map for residents to look up whether they are potentially impacted. The map suggests that just about all of Northwest Philadelphia and all neighborhoods west of the Schuylkill are not impacted.
On Saturday, the Water Department said it had closed intakes at its Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant on the Delaware River, following Friday night’s spill of more than 8,000 gallons of a latex-finishing solution into Otter Creek in Bristol Borough.
However, Carroll said Sunday that the drinking water plant’s intakes were opened between 12:15 a.m. and 5 a.m. to maintain minimal levels of water in the system “to avoid any damage to our equipment, and to continue to supply water for essential needs, including fire safety.”
He said there was no risk that contaminants would be present in the city’s water system “before about 2 p.m.”
As a result of the potential for contamination, people may wish to not drink or cook with tap water this afternoon, he said.
The spill reportedly came from a plant operated by Trinseo in Bristol. Tim Thomas, senior vice president of manufacturing and engineering at the company, told 6ABC Saturday that the acrylic polymer solution that spilled into the creek — estimated at 8,100 gallons Saturday, though officials said as much as 12,000 gallons may have spilled — didn’t pose a risk to the public.
“It’s like the material you find in paint,” Thomas told 6ABC. “It’s your typical acrylic paint you have in your house, that’s what really this material is, in a water base.”
Trinseo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
A spokesperson for Bucks County said it had communicated with water providers there — Pennsylvania American Water, Aqua, and the Lower Bucks Joint Municipal Authority — and all “advised that there are currently no known adverse impacts to drinking water in Bucks County.”
“Residents in Bristol Borough, Bristol Township, and Bensalem Township who may have questions should contact their water provider,” said the spokesperson, Eric Nagy, adding that the county “will update residents as information becomes available.”
Among the chemicals released into Otter Creek is butyl acrylate, which was one of the chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment, Carroll said. The city said boiling tap water would not remove the chemicals in question.
Carroll — who said the city would provide more information this afternoon — said the health risks associated with the chemicals were “very low.”
“There are no acute effects associated with the low-level exposures of these contaminants that we’re seeing,” he said. “Our best information is that people who ingest water will not suffer any near-term symptoms or any acute medical conditions. And so we foresee no need to seek medical attention related to this event.”
There is no concern related to skin exposure, so people should still feel comfortable bathing, Carroll said. He also said residents could safely wash dishes.
This is a developing story and will be updated.