Panicked buyers grabbed armfuls of bottled water from store shelves across Philadelphia on Sunday after a ruptured pipe spilled at least 8,100 gallons of a latex chemical solution into the Delaware River, a source of drinking water for millions.
The chemicals spilled late Friday at the Altuglas LLC chemical plant in Bristol, Pennsylvania, on the river about 17 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The plant manufactures acrylic resins, according to the company’s website.
City officials advised Sunday morning that residents use bottled water for drinking and cooking, prompting widespread panic buying of bottled water. The city later changed its recommendation and said tap water was safe to drink or store for later use, at least until midnight Monday.
No contaminants have been found in drinking water.
How large is the spill?
Where was the chemical spill?
The city water department, state environmental authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard were testing the water and monitoring the spill.
What chemicals were spilled into the river?
Trinseo PLC, which owns the Altuglas plant, said the chemical is a water-based latex emulsion solution, a combination of about 50% latex polymer and 50% water.
“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,” the company said on its website.
The spill released three main chemicals:
- Butyl acrylate: A potentially flammable colorless liquid with a sharp, fruit-like odor. Prolonged exposure can irritate eyes, skin and the upper respiratory system. Butyl acrylate was among the chemicals spilled in the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment on Feb. 3.
- Ethyl acrylate: A colorless liquid primarily used in the manufacture of polymers, or synthetic materials. Short-term exposure can damage the eyes, throat, nose and lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Methyl methacrylate: A colorless liquid used in the manufacture of resins and plastics. Exposure can irritate eyes, skin, nose and throat.
These chemicals would be significantly diluted in the Delaware River, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
How did the chemical spill happen?
A pipeline ruptures at the Altuglas manufacturing plant in Bristol, Pennsylvania. About 8,100 to 12,000 gallons of a latex paint solution overflows from an on-site containment system.
The solution enters a storm drain and flows into Otter Creek, a Delaware River tributary, and then into the Delaware River. It poses a contamination problem for residential areas that get water from the city’s Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant.
Two other city treatment plants get water from the Schuylkill River, which is not affected by the spill.
Altuglas, a subsidiary of Trinseo PLC, says the spill appears to be “the result of an equipment failure.”
Saturday: 6:03 p.m.
The Philadelphia Water Department says it is monitoring the latex spill.
Sunday: 12:15 a.m.
Water intakes at the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant, about 8 miles downstream of the Altuglas plant, are opened at high tide on the Delaware River.
Water officials say the intakes were opened to maintain minimum water levels and to make sure enough water was available for fire safety and other needs. Contaminates were not found in the water system, officials said.
Sunday: 5 a.m.
Water treatment plant closes river intakes.
Sunday: 11:03 a.m.
City officials advise residents “they may wish not to drink or cook with tap water” and say they will update the advisory in the afternoon.
Sunday: 1 p.m.
Philadelphia city water officials send mobile phone alerts advising residents to use bottled water after 2 p.m.
Philadelphia officials rescind bottled-water alert for city residents. The earlier alerts were “issued out of an abundance of caution,” officials say.
“We advise people that they can drink their tap water. There’s no need to buy water,” says Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability said Sunday evening.
Residents can store tap water in containers and refrigerate it “and it will be fine for them to drink,” Carroll says.
Sunday: 8 p.m.
U.S. Coast Guard says about 60,000 gallons of contaminated water have been collected.
Monday: 11 a.m.
Philadelphia officials say tests show city water is safe to drink until midnight Monday.
SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Associated Press; Trinseo PLC