Philadelphia officials: Tap water is safe until Tuesday afternoon

water Philadelphia
Environmental crews work Sunday, March 26, at Otter Creek, the site of a chemical spill in Bristol Borough, Bucks County.
Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia’s tap water will remain uncontaminated until at least 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, city officials said, following a spill from a latex manufacturing facility into a Bucks County creek that flows into the Delaware River

Testing has not found any chemicals in the city’s water supply – or in the river near the Northeast Philadelphia plant that treats water from the Delaware, Deputy City Managing Director Mike Carroll said Monday evening.

“Your tap water is and remains safe,” Carroll said. “Use your water as you normally would.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is expected to provide an update Tuesday morning on the water situation beyond 3:30 p.m.

City leaders are encouraging residents to fill up bottles, jugs or other containers with tap water in case the system becomes contaminated. Federal guidelines call for families to keep three days of water on hand – about 1 gallon a person per day, Carroll said.

The Kenney administration is finalizing a distribution plan to provide water to residents if taps are affected. Carroll also said there’s a possibility PWD may be able to remove the chemicals through treatment.

People who live east of the Schuylkill River rely on Delaware River-sourced water supplied by the Samuel S. Baxter Water Treatment Plant in Torresdale.


Intakes at the Northeast Philadelphia facility were opened overnight, allowing the river to flow into a raw water basin. Carroll said that raw water takes 24 to 48 hours to filter through the system and is tested along the way.

Residents in West, Southwest and most of Northwest Philadelphia receive water from the Schuylkill, which is unaffected by the leak.

Carroll said modeling shows that all water near the spill site will have flushed out of the river into the Delaware Bay by late Wednesday or early Thursday, eliminating the risk of drinking water contamination. Still, the Philadelphia Water Department expects to continue enhanced testing until next week.

An estimated 8,100 gallons of latex emulsion product – and possibly as much as 12,000 gallons, according to the U.S. Coast Guard – spilled into Otter Creek, also known as Mill Creek, which empties into the Delaware in Bristol. Authorities were notified of the release late Friday.

Butyl acrylate – which was also released in the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment – is among the chemicals that potentially leaked into the watershed.

Trinseo Altuga, which owns the Bucks County latex manufacturing facility where the spill occurred, said Monday that initial water sample tests at designated locations have not detected harmful chemicals.

“Because the material is highly water soluble, and the release coincided with a period of rainfall, the material dissipated quickly in the water,” the Wayne-based company said in a statement.

Otter Creek, also known as Mill Creek, flows into the Delaware River near the waterfront park in Bristol Borough, Bucks County.Jack Tomczuk

The spill was caused by an equipment failure that allowed the solution to overflow an on-site containment system and run into a storm drain that empties into Otter Creek, according to the firm.

Production at the Bristol plant was paused in the aftermath of the incident, Trinseo said, though the company added that it intends to resume partial operations over the next several days “following an internal review of operations.”

News of the potential water contamination spurred a frenzy search for bottled water, particularly after the city alerted residents Sunday to avoid the taps.

On Sunday morning, municipal leaders advised residents in affected areas to consider switching to bottles “out of an abundance of caution.”

Later in the day, the notification buzzed phones around the city, recommending residents not consume tap water from 2 p.m. “until further notice.” That notice came a few hours later, when officials said the water would be safe through Monday night.

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