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Samsung Austin Spilled 763,000 Gallons of Acid Waste Into Local Ecosystem

Austin City Council says “virtually no surviving aquatic life” in the affected waterways.

A report published by an Environmental Officer working for Austin City Council (PDF) reveals that there has been a massive spill of chemicals into a nearby stormwater pond, which feeds a tributary of the Harris Branch Creek in Northeast Austin. Up to 763,000 gallons of acidic waste was discharged into the pond, flowing into a nearby tributary over 100+ days. The result of the pollution, mostly sulfuric acid waste, isn’t that surprising, with the Watershed Protection Department (WPD) staff reporting “virtually no surviving aquatic life” throughout the affected waterway.

Quite astonishingly, sections of the tributary to Harris Branch Creek had pH levels between 3 and 4. It is highly acidic, compared with what you would expect in a healthy pond or stream, perhaps on a par with household vinegar or grapefruit juice. A quick reference pH chart shared by the U.S. Department of the Interior indicates that at a pH of between 3 and 4, “adult fish die.”

A spokesperson for Samsung has provided a statement to local news agencies such as CBS Austin. According to Samsung, “a majority of the wastewater was contained on-site; however, a portion was inadvertently released into an unnamed small tributary that is upstream of Harris Branch Creek.” After discovering the release, Samsung said it stopped the discharges, hired a cleanup specialist, and is taking action to find a solution to the problem and “restore the tributary.” Luckily, the main branch of the Harris Branch Creek appeared to be still unaffected by the catastrophe upstream.

(Image credit: Austin Watershed Protection Department)
(Image credit: Austin Watershed Protection Department)


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Investigators confirmed the discharge has ceased and, between measurements on January 14 and 19, found the tributary had returned to close to normal acidity levels, between pH 6.7 and 8.5. At this time, the long-term impacts of the wastewater spill aren’t easy to know, so ongoing monitoring by Samsung’s environmental hire at the pond side and weekly monitoring by the WPD will continue.

While getting a large semiconductor plant built in your county or state might be welcome for the sake of progress, the economy, and jobs, sometimes you have to pay a moderate to heavy environmental price. In the case of Samsung Austin, countless fishes and amphibians have paid the ultimate price with their lives. The WPD report says that there was limited public access to the affected waterways, with no parks nearby and no evidence of people living in encampments in the affected areas.



Mark Tyson at Tom’s Hardware

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