Philly residents still wary about drinking tap water

Philadelphia drinking water was declared safe and unaffected by the Bucks County chemical spill on Tuesday, March 28
tap water
Photo credit Liudmila Chernetska

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It’s been days since the City of Philadelphia said there’s no longer a risk to the safety of its water supply. So why are some residents still wary?

“I’m not ready yet. I think I’ll burn through my bottled water,” said Kayla from Germantown.

And Lorita Bristow from North Philly feels similarly.

“I don’t feel too safe with it,” she said. “I will not be drinking it if I can help it.”

On Friday, March 24, the Philadelphia Water Department reported a synthetic latex product spilled from the Trinseo facility along a tributary of the Delaware River near Bristol Township, Bucks County, just 13 miles north of the Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant intake. Multiple tests were conducted in the following days and officials say at no point was there any contamination of drinking water.

But both Kayla and Bristow say the city sent mixed messages on Sunday, telling people they might want to drink bottled water, then saying that wasn’t necessary, then also saying people should have two days of water ready in storage.

“Don’t drink it, you can drink it … That’s really a panic wave and people are panicking,” Bristow said.

In terms of its messaging, city officials have defended their communication strategy. They say they were transparent about what they knew and when they knew it. People worked around the clock to monitor any possible contamination to the drinking supply and ultimately, this kept residents safe.

Bristow works with the TCRC Community Healing Center in North Philadelphia and saw firsthand how the alerts made the pantry grow overrun by families desperate to find water.

“A young lady – the expression on her face for water – for water.”

Joy in Mount Airy says she needed more information and would have liked to see a free bottled water distribution plan.

“I think if they’re going to do alerts, where people can go for water, not just do the alert, give stations areas to go, because I’m a senior citizen and you go to the supermarket and nothing is left.”

Dolores Albarracín, an expert in Science Communication with the University of Pennsylvania says the smartphone alerts were a good idea. But if they were the only way you were getting information, there was a lot of important context missing.

“There was a need for a strategy that is comprehensive with short form alerts and more comprehensive information and especially how to access the type of water we might need,” Albarracín explained.

Ultimately, when Mayor Jim Kenney announced the ‘all clear’ Tuesday night, he drank a glass of tap water on camera to send a message.

It didn’t reassure Bristow but, realistically, she admits she will be drinking from the tap again sometime soon.

“We have no choice in the matter. I don’t want to drink the water, but I have no choice.”

Meanwhile, leaders at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection say they will pursue accountability measures from Trinseo.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Liudmila Chernetska