AUSTIN (KXAN) — A spokesperson for Austin’s Samsung facility said they’ve fixed a pipe under a floor that sprung a leak and lead to thousands of gallons of diluted acidic wastewater in a local waterway.
“We have thoroughly investigated the root cause, added improved monitoring systems and are implementing strong countermeasures to ensure this does not happen again,” spokesperson Michele Glaze wrote to KXAN.
Glaze also added the company is already trying to “fully restore the health of the tributary” off Harris Branch Creek in northeast Austin where wastewater was detected.
Glaze also said the release was not sulfuric acid, as city staff initially stated in a memo released Thursday. City officials also said the discharge could’ve been happening over a period of as long as 106 days.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said Samsung notified the the agency of the discharge the same day the company said they found it, Jan. 14, during unrelated construction activities.
TCEQ said it notified Austin’s Watershed Protection Department (WPD) on Jan. 18.
“I was shocked, you know, that’s crazy,” said Heidii Wasserburger, who lives downstream from the waterway.
A Samsung spokesperson confirmed to KXAN Thursday night they discovered the wastewater had entered its storm water pond and explained while the majority of the wastewater was contained on site, a portion was released into the unnamed tributary.
“We immediately stopped the release, retained a leading environmental engineering company as a partner and took action to implement a solution to minimize impact to the environment and restore the tributary,” Samsung said in a statement.
A TCEQ public information officer, Ryan Vise, told KXAN pH levels are now within neutral ranges but sampling is being done to make sure that doesn’t change.
According to Samsung’s report to TCEQ, the discharge stemmed from “a leak in a sump underneath a subfloor.”
Spill investigators and scientists took a look at the area Jan. 18-19 and saw iron staining in the tributary channel consistent with a low pH environment, the memo stated. WPD said it was in this tributary stretch from the Samsung plant to the main branch of Harris Branch Creek that WPD staff found no surviving aquatic life, including fish.
“This indicates the discharge had a significant short-term impact on the aquatic community and the ecology of the tributary,” the memo stated. WPD said it’s too early to determine long-term impacts.
Another review on Jan. 18 found the pH had returned near normal levels within the tributary, with values from 6.7 to 8.5.
“What we don’t know is whether or not that’s going to have a prolonged effect on the tributary itself,” said Alex Ortiz, Sierra Club water resources specialist.
He said Samsung seemed to be doing its due diligence by working with agencies right away.
“It is good that Samsung has clearly started that effort in terms of notifying all the appropriate authorities and trying to figure out what the next steps on remediation are,” Ortiz said.
While the tributary itself was affected, no major impacts to wildlife or water chemistry were found in the main branch of Harris Branch Creek.
WPD said in the memo it’s getting daily updates from Samsung on the remediation process, and it will inspect the pond again once that process is complete and before it’s put back in service. WPD staff is also conducting weekly surveys of the tributary to keep an eye on water quality until remediation is complete.
“Appropriate agencies were notified and we are fully cooperating with all of them,” Samsung wrote in a statement.
The memo noted the public can’t readily reach the area of the Samsung stormwater pond and tributary, and there are no nearby parks. WPD also didn’t find any signs of homeless encampments along the tributary.
The memo said TCEQ will be investigating to see if there are any impacts to human health. When KXAN reached out to TCEQ, it said it hasn’t documented any impacts to human life as a result of the discharge.