Philly residents urged to switch to bottled water after chemical spill in Bucks County hits Delaware River tributary
The spill happened on Friday night and while there haven’t been any contaminants found yet in the city’s water system, officials said they can’t be “100%.”
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On Friday night, March 24, a pipe burst at a factor in Bristol, Bucks County and resulted in the spill of more than 8,000 gallons of hazardous latex solution into Otter Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River.
It’s why on Sunday morning, March 26, around 10:30 a.m., Philadelphia officials from the Water Department and Mayor’s Office held a press conference and issued a warning to Philadelphia residents to switch over to bottled water in the event contaminants from the spill make their way to the city’s water system.
There is a map the Water Department put out that also tracks what parts of the city could be impacted by the contaminated water. Per the map, West Philly will be unaffected by a potential contamination, but the rest of the city, including North, South, Center City and the Northeast, will be affected.
Deputy Managing Director Mike Carroll said that intakes at the city’s Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant were opened at 12:15 a.m. at high tide on the Delaware River and closed again at 5 a.m.
“Contaminates have not been found in our system at this time,” Carroll said, but that officials were “still monitoring the situation and conducting testing.”
In an initial press release, if there is a risk, Carroll said it wouldn’t be present until 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 26. Later in the day, the city reported that its tap water would be safe to drink through Monday night, March 27. In a mayor's press conference on Monday, March 27, officials updated the timeline, telling residents that the city's tap water would be safe to drink until 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28.
“Because we cannot be 100 percent sure that there won’t be traces of these chemicals in the tap water throughout the afternoon, we want the public to be aware so that people can consider switching to bottled water to further minimize any risk,” Carroll said.
He also reiterated that the health risks are very low when involving trace amounts of the chemicals in question.
“No acute effects are associated with low level exposure. Our best information is that people who ingest water will not suffer any near-term symptoms or acute medical conditions,” said Carroll. “We foresee no reason to seek medical attention related to this event.”\
Carroll said there was “no concern” over skin exposure, a potential fire hazard or inhaling fumes.
“Again, this advisory is being issued out of an abundance of caution to prevent any theoretical, long-term public health impacts,” he said.
Restaurants and food businesses in potentially-affected areas will also be allowed to conduct as business as usual until 2 p.m.
In the bigger picture of the spill, the U.S. Coast Guard was on the scene of the spill shortly after its occurrence on Friday night and continues to investigate its impact and route through waterways.
The EPA, NOAA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the state Fish and Boat Commission are also involved in the investigation.