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Many stores, such as the CVS on 34th and Walnut Streets, sold out of bottled water after the City of Philadelphia alerted residents about a chemical spill in the Delaware River. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn students rushed to purchase bottled water Sunday after an emergency announcement from the City of Philadelphia advised residents that they may want to avoid drinking or using tap water.

At 1:14 p.m., the Philadelphia Water Department alerted residents via a public service announcement about a chemical spill in a tributary of the Delaware River that occurred Friday night, recommending individuals use bottled drinking water from 2 p.m. until further notice, although contaminants had not yet been found in the water. 

Later, at about, 3:30 p.m. the PWD sent an updated announcement, saying that tap water had been deemed safe to drink and cook with until 11:59 p.m. on March 27. According to a map of possibly affected areas, the zip code encompassing Penn's campus is not affected by the advisory because it does not receive tap water from the Delaware River. 

Despite this, many stores nearby and on campus saw influxes of students visiting to purchase bottled water. A University spokesperson said he was not aware of any plan for Penn to distribute or provide bottled water, citing how Penn is not in a possibly affected area according to the city. 

“I honestly wasn’t too worried when I saw the message, but after seeing the water off all the shelves, it definitely makes it seem more intense,” Engineering senior Patrick Liu said, comparing the situation to the rush to purchase supplies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locations near campus that sold out of bottled water at some point on Sunday included ACME at 40th and Walnut Streets, CVS on 34th and Walnut streets, CVS on 39th and Walnut streets, Trader Joe’s on 21st and Market streets, Heirloom Market on 34th and Chestnut streets, Target on Pennsylvania Ave., and Whole Foods.

The spill was caused by a pipe burst on Friday evening at a chemical plant in Bucks County, resulting in over 8,100 gallons of water-soluble acrylic polymer solution — a latex product — getting spilled into the Delaware River. Butyl acrylate, one of the chemicals spilled, was also released in the trail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, officials said at a press conference.  

“I don’t know how fast rivers are, but the spill was Friday night, and there was a full day of no notice,” College and Engineering junior Soyoon Park said. “I guess for chemical spills they can’t really be prepared for that, it’s more of a person who spilled its' problem.”

Many Penn students said that they primarily rely on tap as their main source of water.

Sarah Ali, a student in the English Language Program, said that she primarily drinks tap water, but now no longer has access to water. Ali is also fasting for Ramadan, meaning that she cannot eat or drink anything from dawn to sunset from March 22 to April 20.

“I don’t have water to break my fast today, so it’s a bit scary,” Ali said. “This is my first year living in Philadelphia so I never really experienced a water crisis before. I got the public safety alert on my phone which caught me off guard and I came [to ACME].” 

Penn students from the Philadelphia area expressed concern about the water supply, especially for people who live in areas that have been labeled as affected.

“My parents live in South Philly, so I’m worried that they can’t get water,” Wharton senior Emily Chen said. “We get our water supply [from] the Delaware River.” 

Some individuals also expressed concern regarding the government's response to the situation.

“[I’m] pretty concerned,” third-year Wharton MBA student Ricky Kuo said. “I just feel like there are no emergency measures from the government. It’s something that we drink [and] we use every day; there should be more bottled water.”