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Sulfuric acid waste spills from Northeast Samsung plant into nearby creek

A red outline shows the Samsung stormwater pond and affected waterway. (City of Austin)

Up to 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid waste reached the stormwater pond at Austin’s Samsung facility and uncontained portions spilled into a tributary of Harris Branch Creek in Northeast Austin.

It’s unknown how much waste entered the tributary, but it had a “significant short-term impact on the aquatic community and the ecology of the tributary,” a City of Austin memo stated. The Watershed Protection Department found dead aquatic remains and virtually no surviving aquatic life, including fish, when staff visited the surrounding area.

The spill happened at the semiconductor facility at 12100 Samsung Boulevard. The nearby creek starts near Parmer and Yager Lanes and flows into Gilleland Creek, east of SH 130. Sulfuric acid, one of the most commercially important chemicals, has been described as dense and corrosive.

After Samsung notified TCEQ and the National Response Center on Jan. 14, it found sections of the tributary had a pH between 3 and 4, “far below normal for surface water,” the city memo notes.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notified the city’s Watershed Protection Department on Jan. 18. TCEQ, which is overseeing the investigation, cleanup and enforcement of the spill, says it could have happened over a period of 106 days.

Last week, spill investigators and scientists looked at the area and saw iron staining in the tributary channel consistent with a low pH environment stretching over about 1.5 miles. Long-term impacts haven’t been determined yet, WPD said.

The department is receiving daily updates from Samsung on the remediation process and will inspect the stormwater pond before it’s put back in service. Staff will also carry out weekly surveys of the affected tributary to monitor water quality parameters like pH until remediation is finished.

Michele Glaze, head of communications and community affairs at Samsung Austin Semiconductor said it is cooperating with the agencies and has retained a leading environmental engineering company as a partner.

Glaze said Samsung is "committed to environmental stewardship and recognizes our role in preserving the natural beauty of Central Texas."

A review on Jan. 18 found the pH had returned to near-normal levels within the tributary. No major impacts seem to have reached wildlife or affected water chemistry in the main branch of the creek.


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