Attracting huge companies like Samsung to build factories in your country or city is a boon for the local economy, with benefits accruing from additional high-skilled jobs to increased tax revenue. Yet it can also cause havoc on local fauna and flora if something goes wrong, as is the case in Austin, Texas.
The environmental Officer of the Watershed Protection Department (WPD) for Austin City Council published a report regarding the massive 763,000-gallon spill of sulphuric acid waste from a Samsung semiconductor plant located at 12100 Samsung Boulevard, into a close-by storm water pond. The latter feeds into an adjacent tributary of the Harris Branch Creek in northeast Austin. Apparently, this has been going on for 106 days.
Regarding the damage to the local ecosystem, WPD staff reported “virtually no surviving aquatic life.” Sections of the tributary had pH levels ranging from 3 to 4, needless to say this is highly acidic compared to what ought to be in a healthy river/pond, which is a pH between 6.5 and 8.5. According to the US Department of the Interior, a pH between 3 and 4 would kill adult fish.
“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,” Samsung said.
After discovering the release, Samsung said it stopped the discharges and hired a clean-up specialist. The good news is that Harris Branch Creek is looking unaffected by what is happening upstream. Hopefully it stays this way.
Investigators confirmed the discharge has stopped. The measurements from January 14 to 19 indicate the tributary has returned to near its normal acidity levels of pH 6.7 to 8.5. There will be weekly monitoring from the WPD, although the long-term impact is hard to predict.
The full statement from Michele Glaze, Head of Communications and Community Affairs at Samsung Austin Semiconductor, reads as follows:
- Samsung Austin Semiconductor is committed to environmental stewardship and recognizes our role in preserving the natural beauty of Central Texas.
- On Jan. 14, we discovered a release of industrial wastewater that entered our stormwater collection pond.
- 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.
- 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.
- The ecological impact was a temporary lowering of pH levels in the tributary only – none in the creek.
- The water within the tributary has already returned to normal conditions.
- Harris Branch Creek is confirmed to be unaffected.
- Appropriate agencies were notified and we are fully cooperating with all of them.