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Philadelphia copes with latest US spill

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-28 10:26

A man makes his way out to a stop sign placed in the Delaware River at Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia on Sunday. Water in Philadelphia had been deemed unsafe to drink following a chemical spill in the Delaware River, leading to water bottles being sold out across the city. THOMAS HENGGE/GETTY IMAGES

It's been a roller-coaster ride for Philadelphia residents for two days.

They were advised on Sunday to consider drinking only bottled water due to a chemical spill that occurred in neighboring Bucks County, contaminating the Delaware River, which is Philadelphia's main water supply.

One day after people flocked to the grocery stores and emptied the bottled water shelves, city leaders said the tap water is still safe to drink as of Monday.

"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," the city said in a statement released on Sunday afternoon.

City officials said the current water supply is safe to drink until at least 3:30 pm Tuesday. But the safety status of the water may be subject to alteration pending further water tests.

According to an analysis by The Guardian newspaper, chemical accidents in the US are happening approximately every two days.

The data, collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and non-profit organizations tracking chemical accidents, included incidents caused by train derailments, truck crashes, pipeline ruptures, or industrial plant leaks and spills.

In the first seven weeks of 2023, there were already more than 30 chemical incidents, averaging roughly one every day and a half, according to the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, an organization that has been documenting incidents of chemical accidents since April 2020. Last year, the group recorded 188 incidents, up from 177 in 2021.

The chemical spill happened late Friday evening at the Trinseo Altuglas chemical facility in Bristol Township, Pennsylvania, and caused the release of 8,100 and 12,000 gallons of a water-based latex finishing solution into the river.

A grocery store employee in the Philadelphia metropolitan area told China Daily that bottled water that arrived Monday morning had sold out in the afternoon. There is no stock in the store right now, Tingting Chen said on Monday early afternoon.

"I don't trust the city," Philadelphia resident Joe Sole told CNN on Monday from a grocery store parking lot before he loaded packages of bottled water into his car. "They sound like they don't really know what they're talking about," he said.

"They don't sound confident in what they're telling us," Sole said.

The chemical spill near Philadelphia was "the result of equipment failure" at a Trinseo PLC plant that makes acrylic resins, the owner said Sunday. The accident came a month after a toxic train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio, which spread poisonous fumes into the air and killed thousands of fish.

"When I heard about the incident in Ohio, I still felt quite far away from such chemical incidents," Chen told China Daily. "It was quite shocking that such a small probability event happened to me, in Philadelphia."

Friday's spill immediately raised concerns about possible health threats. At least one of the discharged chemicals, butyl acrylate, is among the contaminants of concern identified in last month's train derailment in Ohio, according to CNN.

Butyl acrylate is a clear, colorless liquid with a strong, fruity odor. Exposure could lead to irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These kinds of hidden disasters happen far too frequently," Mathy Stanislaus, who was an assistant administrator of the EPA's office of land and emergency management during the Obama administration, told The Guardian.

The majority of chemical accidents occur in facilities that handle and store hazardous chemicals. There are about 12,000 facilities nationwide with "extremely hazardous chemicals in amounts that could harm people, the environment, or property if accidentally released", according to a report published by the Government Accountability Office last year.

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