Philadelphians panic-buy bottled water despite reassurance from city leaders about tap water

City leaders in Philadelphia reiterated Monday that the tap water is safe to use following a chemical spill in Bucks County, but their reassurance has not been enough to quell the concerns of some residents who rushed to the stores to stock up on bottled water. 

Health officials in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia, said Sunday that a leak late Friday evening at the Trinseo Altuglas chemical facility in Bristol Township spilled between 8,100 and 12,000 gallons (30,700 and 120,000 liters) of a water-based latex finishing solution. Officials said it is non-toxic to humans, and no known adverse health effects have been reported in the county.

Mike Carroll, deputy managing director for the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, initially said Monday evening that the office believes water in city taps will be unaffected until at least 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

Officials released another update on Tuesday morning saying the water would be safe to use and drink through Wednesday night. 

Carroll said any spill conditions would last no later than Thursday — "and we may be able to say by Wednesday night" it has completely passed the city's treatment plant. 


U.S. Coast Guard tests of Delaware River water and city tests of water in the river near the treatment plant intake have shown no sign of contamination, Carroll said. Officials said there has also been no evidence of fish kills or other indications of harm from the spill.

"It is safe to drink and use tap water, to cook with it, to brush your teeth, to bathe in it of course, at least until tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., so use your tap water as you normally do," Carroll said.

The reassurance from Philadelphia leaders and health officials hasn't been enough to stop some residents from panic buy cases of bottled water. Some even crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey suburbs to clean out big box stores and supermarkets. 

"Yesterday it was the crisis ‘don’t drink water!’ then a couple of hours later it’s ‘ok never mind, you ain’t got to buy the water'," Kyrue Walker from South Philadelphia told FOX 29's Chris O'Connell.

Videos and photos of barren store shelves once occupied by cases of water have circulated on social media. SkyFOX flew over a BJ's Wholesale club where a line snaked into the parking lot, and some shoppers exited the store with cases of water filling their carts. 

"I got two cases in here and six cases home…you know you can’t trust the people," one shopper told FOX 29. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report