Philly residents eligible for $25 from Delaware River spill settlement

The lawsuit alleges residents suffered financial losses from purchasing bottled water and driving to grocery stores.

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shoppers holding case of water

In a March 2023 photo, residents could be seen carrying water through the streets of Philadelphia after the city recommend people start using bottled water after a chemical spill. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

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Philadelphia residents and businesses are eligible to receive at least $25 from a $2.7 million class-action settlement over last year’s Delaware River chemical spill that led to bottled water advisories.

In March 2023, an estimated 8,000 gallons of a water-based latex finishing solution from the Trinseo Altuglas chemical facility in Bristol, Bucks County, leaked into the river.

The incident, which occurred upstream of the city’s Baxter Drinking Water Treatment Plant, did not impact drinking water.

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However, the City of Philadelphia was criticized for its confusing public messaging. After the city issued numerous bottled water advisories, panic buying ensued, leaving some supermarket shelves empty.

The settlement alleges residents suffered financial losses from the purchases and driving to and from grocery stores. Businesses were forced to turn off their tap water and scramble to find other supplies, according to the lawsuit.

“This settlement really relates to economic injuries centered around those recommendations by the city, and that were in the media, to purchase bottled water,” said Michael Twersky of Berger Montague, one of the attorneys who filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of residents.

“This isn’t a situation where something like drinking water was affected … Mostly what people suffered was the need to purchase bottled water, maybe a filter, the economic harms of driving a car, maybe some restaurants suffered a little bit, but we’re not talking about the type of high damages you might see in other cases.”

Trinseo and its subsidiary Altuglas, which blamed the cause of the spill on equipment failure, have denied any violation of the law. The defendants said they agreed to the settlement to avoid the expenses associated with continuing the litigation.

Residents who lived in 38 Philadelphia zip codes during the spill, as well as businesses in those areas, are eligible to receive a base pay of $25 from the settlement. Anyone who can prove further financial harm with documents such as receipts may be eligible for more money.

Residents have begun to get notifications of the settlement through the mail.

Ken Kristl, a law professor at Widener University Delaware Law School, said the settlement removes the hassle of proving the dollar amount spent on bottled water, while allowing people who faced greater expenses to file for more money.

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Though attorneys can claim up to a third of the settlement, cases like these have several benefits, Kristl said.

“In many class actions, the attorneys come out very well, because they get their fees and sometimes they get them upfront … but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a positive benefit these types of lawsuits can bring about,” he said. “If a defendant has engaged in wrongful conduct, the suit holds them to account. Plus others in the community see, ‘Oh, I could get sued if I do something wrong.’”

Leftover settlement money must be partly allocated for the environmental protection of the Delaware River and its tributaries, or to provide drinking water to communities in need.

Residents and businesses interested in the settlement must file a claim by August 16, and those who object to the settlement or wish to exclude themselves to file their own lawsuit must do so by July 17.

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