The Trinseo chemical spill was the latest test on whether Philadelphia’s leaders could protect its residents from environmental harm and they failed. Instead of providing transparency, confidence, and help, they gave residents ambiguity, doubt, and chaos.
In a few short days, trust in our drinking water system was broken. While the Coast Guard, Water Department staff, and state and federal environmental engineers worked to assess and manage the chemical spill to ensure it didn’t enter our water pipes, our leaders botched their duty to develop a sound plan and engage with the public.
It’s critical that the city’s leaders take swift and bold action to mend this trust. To begin this process, Philadelphia City Council, Mayor Jim Kenney, and the Philadelphia Water Department should do the following:
Nevertheless, these calls to action do not signal that Trinseo is without fault. Their infrastructure failed, and state and federal regulators will investigate the cause. Although that process will take some time, it's clear that this facility has a history of problems that should be reflected in any enforcement taken to hold this corporate polluter accountable.
After decades of disinvestment and deregulation, more and more environmental disasters are occurring, and Philadelphia needs leaders who will finally take ownership of this reality.
For many in the city, this crisis is just the latest injustice in an ongoing series, and complacency here will only multiply that ongoing harm. Mistrust in our drinking water is a deep cut to the many residents who are already beset by anxiety because of ongoing environmental problems such as asbestos in our schools, lead in our water pipes, and pollution in our air.
This is not fair or just.
Philadelphia needs its leaders to step up and take on its growing list of environmental problems. We should not settle for subpar management. Stand up, protect our home, and give Philadelphians the respect they deserve.