Philadelphia, PA — A warm and sunny Sunday afternoon was suddenly interrupted by an emergency phone alert: Philadelphia authorities warned the city water supply could be endangered and everyone should cease using drinking water after 2 p.m. Eastern time. Within minutes, people headed to grocery, corner and beer stores to grab water jugs and bottles. By 4 p.m. a couple stores Unicorn Riot checked were mostly picked over.
City authorities warned at a Sunday morning news conference that ethyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate and butyl acrylate spilled into Otter Creek from a pipe rupture at the Trinseo PLC chemical plant near the Delaware River late Friday night.
The Samuel S. Baxter Water Treatment Plant along the Delaware River has reportedly closed its intakes, and as of 5:30 p.m., city authorities said that the city water supply was still safe to drink. The Philadelphia Water Department advised it is safe to store tap water through Monday night, and advised residents should generally store about 2 days of water per household.
A map from the city this morning clarified that West Philadelphia is ostensibly not impacted, but almost all the city east of the Schuylkill River is affected. A report on Sunday stated the release is estimated at 8,100 gallons, a maximum of 12,000 gallons.
A release from the city at 3:30 p.m. said that the Baxter facility had been sealed off from the river so that water would be safe through the end of Monday until midnight. (The city’s homepage for this incident is being regularly updated.)
“Based on updated hydraulic modeling and the latest sampling results and data, the Philadelphia Water Department is now confident tap water from the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant will remain safe to drink and use at least through 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 27, 2023.
There is no need to buy water at this time. Customers can fill bottles or pitchers with tap water with no risk at this time. We will provide a media update at approximately 5 p.m. today, Sunday, March 26, 2023.
This updated time is 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.
The water that is currently available to customers was treated before the spill reached Philadelphia and remains safe to drink and use for bathing, cooking, and washing.
The earlier advisory that customers receiving water from the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant may choose to drink bottled water on March 26 was issued out of an abundance of caution. Testing has not shown the presence of water impacted by the spill in the Baxter system at this time.
We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available through sampling and monitoring of river conditions.
The Philadelphia Water Department’s Tidal Spill Model Tool is being used to track contaminant plume movement and inform when the chemical spill will no longer impact the Philadelphia drinking water intakes.”City of Philadelphia release, 3:30 p.m.
Update Monday 3/27: The timeframe about safety advisories shifted again around 5 p.m. At a city press conference from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) streamed at 5 p.m., officials extended the assurance on the Baxter plant to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Per a 1:30 p.m. release, the Baxter plant wasn’t cleared earlier in the day beyond midnight. (Also in Español, 中文, 한국인)
“The water that is currently available to customers has been treated and tested to confirm that it is safe to drink and use for bathing, cooking, and washing. … Residents can sign up for free alerts from the City by texting READYPHILA to 888-777 or by visiting the ReadyPhiladelphia signup page.”Update March 27, 1:30 p.m., water.phila.gov “Current guidance for residents”
East Palestine Impacts Philly Recovery; Facility Rep Downplays Hazard Risk
A video clip aired on 6ABC included the disturbing claim that the East Palestine disaster slowed operations during this incident: “It took us a little while to gather the resources as the Ohio incident is still draining a lot of resources regionally,” said Samuel Manka, a US Coast Guard marine science technician.
However ABC6 claimed that the chemicals did not overlap with the East Palestine disaster, although butyl acrylate has been released in both disasters. The report appears to have aired before city officials mentioned the chemicals at the Sunday morning news conference. As of 9:30 p.m. Eastern time the city incident webpage does not feature the names of the chemicals.
“But unlike the toxins spilled in the Ohio chemical spill after the major train derailment, environmental experts are adamant that the material shouldn’t be a concern to the public.
‘It’s like the material you find in paint,‘ said [Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering at Trinseo, Tim Thomas]. ‘It’s your typical acrylic paint you have in your house, that’s what really this material is, in a water base.'”ABC6 Report, “Pipe burst at Trinseo PLC releases hazardous material into Bucks County creek; Coast Guard responds,” March 26, 2023
In a Sunday press conference around 10:15 a.m. authorities explained the series of events. Just before midnight on Friday, the chemicals spilled through a storm drain, down Otter Creek into the Delaware River. The Trinseo plant in Bristol Township was the source, a spinoff company of Dow Chemical, which has a history in Pennsylvania for chemical contamination. Another Dow site in Bristol Township is the site of an EPA-directed cleanup.
An update in a live Zoom chat around 5:15 p.m. Sunday from the city indicated that the intake at the Baxter facility had been open as late as 5 a.m. that morning, and they will have to open the intake again late on Sunday, or risk damaging equipment if it runs dry.
An Emergency Operation Center was activated in-person on Sunday and “virtually” on Saturday according to emergency manager Dominick Mireles.
Further city updates are available via phila.gov, water.phila.gov, @philaOEM and @phillyh2O on Twitter.
More on Chemicals, Ongoing Regional Industrial Problems
Ethyl acrylate is considered a health hazard. According to the National Library of Medicine, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer stated, Overall evaluation, Ethyl acrylate is possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).” Butyl acrylate is considered harmful in the workplace above 10 parts per million (10 ppm) per CDC.gov. Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is a “monomer of acrylic resin” which is not considered carcinogenic in normal circumstances, but can have negative health effects.
Aside from the East Palestine chemical fallout that spread from Ohio, Pennsylvania continues to suffer industrial disasters and controlled toxic release conditions. At least five people were killed and two still missing in West Reading, after a candy factory exploded on Friday evening. On Saturday, the Shell oil company announced that their major new ethane cracker plant was firing off an “elevated flare for a period of time.” The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection monitors the Shell Petrochemicals Complex in Beaver County, Potter Township, and the most recent violation notice was on February 13, 2023 (PDF). Beaver County is also one of the most impacted areas in the East Palestine disaster.