After previous health crises, can Philadelphians actually trust their government over water scare?

New Jersey Daily Life
Shown is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Philadelphia skyline as seen from the Cramer Hill Waterfront Park in Camden, N.J., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke/AP

After previous health crises, can Philadelphians actually trust their government over water scare?

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Philadelphia warned its residents on Sunday that a chemical spill at a water treatment plant might have affected its water supply. As a precaution, the city urged people to use bottled water until testing could determine if tap water was safe. It sent the city into a frenzy as people rushed to grocery stores, buying as much spring water as possible. Just a few hours later, the city changed its mind; officials said the water was safe. But given the chaotic messaging and inconsistencies, it raises the question: can the city’s residents trust its government?

As a city resident, I can attest to the chaos and confusion of the situation. Residents received emergency notifications on their cellphones about the leak and the suggestion to use bottled water. Then, a few hours later, another emergency notification claimed tap water was safe to drink.


The issue stemmed from what officials claimed was “an equipment failure” at a chemical plant Friday night in Bucks County (a suburb north of Philadelphia). It released anywhere from 8,100 to 12,000 gallons of a hazardous latex finishing solution, spilling into a Delaware River tributary used for about half of Philadelphia’s water supply.

“Based on the latest sampling results/data, the Phila Water Dept is now confident tap water from the Baxter Drinking Water Plant will remain safe to drink and use at least through 11:59 p.m. Monday,” the notification read. “Fill water containers at home or purchase a suggested 1 gallon per person for an emergency supply.”

But the more significant issue is, can people trust the government to know they are not being poisoned? This is the same city that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, urged residents to “trust the science” but repeatedly ignored the science and implemented its own health guidelines and restrictions. For example, the city’s health experts implemented a mask mandate for four days less than a year ago. The orders defied the science and recommendations of the CDC. Additionally, city officials, most notably the district attorney’s office, have implemented policies that put homicidal criminals back on the streets, where they threaten the lives of innocent people.

It’s understandable to be hesitant to throw trust behind health officials who have proven they are not the most competent at their job. This skepticism is compounded by the fact that the spill initially occurred on Friday night, but officials waited until Sunday afternoon to tell the public. Then, the inconsistency of being told the city’s water supply was contaminated and unsafe but only a few hours later claiming the opposite does little to inspire faith.

But recent history shows Philadelphians can trust their government, right? Because if there is anything we learned about health experts in Philadelphia — and the country — from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the government will effectively communicate and won’t lie to the public during public health crises.


Excuse me while I purchase three 32-packs of spring water.

Are Philadelphians able to trust their government during health emergencies? If recent history is any indicator, the answer is a resounding no.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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