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Worries after chemical spill into Philadelphia water supply

Newswatch 16's Ally Gallo spoke with a Scranton native who is in the middle of all the uncertainty.

PHILADELPHIA — Health officials say a leak late Friday evening at the Trinseo Altuglas chemical facility in Bristol Township spilled between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons of a water-based latex finishing solution into the river.

Officials said the solution is nontoxic to humans, and no known adverse health effects have been reported in the county.

Even so, people are rushing to the store for cases of bottled water.

After spending the weekend in her hometown of Scranton, Julia McAndrew got back to her apartment in Philadelphia on Sunday. That's when she received a phone alert advising her of a chemical spill in the Delaware River, possibly impacting her drinking water.

As the day went on, and the situation evolved with more testing and monitoring, the Philadelphia Water Department sent a new alert guaranteeing that there wouldn't be any chemicals in the water system through at least Monday night.

"They're also advising us not to go rushing and clearing the shelves off until they've learned more. Obviously, people don't know what the result is going to be. It's definitely been chaos in every single store, grocery store, bodega, Rite Aid, CVS," McAndrew said.

McAndrew is a seventh grade English teacher at a charter school in center city Philly. She says it feels like a flashback to the beginning of the pandemic, with people panic buying, but she only wants to make sure her students are safe.

"I'm telling them, yes, you're allowed to, at least for today. Tomorrow there is no certainty that the water will be fine. So I'm saying yes, you can go ahead and use the water fountains."

Which is the guidance from officials, at least for now.

Stephanie Wein is the clean water advocate for PennEnvironment, a statewide advocacy group. She ensures all Pennsylvanians have clean water to drink from stream to tap. She says the best thing to do right now is to store tap water, not panic-buy bottled water since it is not currently contaminated.

"There is a whole multi-step process that our drinking water goes through, thank goodness, between the Delaware River and reaching our sink," Wein said.

The bottled water advisory, similar to a tornado warning or Amber alert, went out to all Philadelphia residents, but it is actually not the entire city impacted. The spill happened in the Delaware River. Residents on the western side of the city draw their water from the Schuylkill River. But Wein says she understands why the water department is being extra careful, alerting all residents of the potential risks. Although she says this is on the company handling the latex-based solution in the first place.

"We've heard equipment failure before. We heard equipment failure from Norfolk Southern about the train derailment. I think there really needs to be an onus on the companies that are handling toxic chemicals to make sure that they stay out of our water systems so that it doesn't fall to the public, to local governments, to water departments, to scramble in a wake of a spill like this."

Philadelphia officials say the water is safe to drink, use, and store through at least 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, based on the time it takes water from the Delaware River to move through its system.

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