Samsung Spill Kills Off Aquatic Life Near Harris Branch

Up to 763,000 gallons of acidic waste discharged into Harris Branch Creek tributary


Photo via Getty Images

In a January 27 memorandum to City Council, the Watershed Protec­tion Department revealed that over a period of more than 100 days, the Samsung Austin Semiconductor facility discharged up to 763,000 gallons of acidic waste into an unnamed tributary of Harris Branch Creek in Northeast Austin near Parmer Lane, through Samsung's stormwater pond 1.5 miles upstream. Samsung reports no knowledge of the spill until Jan. 14, when it notified the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and said in a statement that the majority of the wastewater was contained on-site. The rest flowed into the tributary between the pond and the creek, where TCEQ investigators subsequently found iron staining indicating low pH levels and "virtually no surviving aquatic life within the affected stretch."

It “had a significant short-term impact on the aquatic community and the ecology of the tributary. It is too early to know what the long-term impacts might be.”

By January 19 the pH had returned to normal levels and there was no indication of ecological effects in the main branch of the creek. However, the memorandum states that it is unknown exactly how much waste was discharged and that it "had a significant short-term impact on the aquatic community and the ecology of the tributary. It is too early to know what the long-term impacts might be." Watershed will inspect the stormwater pond once remediation efforts are complete, and in the meantime are monitoring the water quality of Harris Branch Creek. There's a housing development and apartment complex near Harris Branch Parkway, but Watershed "must yield to TCEQ" to assess possible impacts to human health. And on Feb. 1, the Statesman reported that, according to TCEQ, a smaller spill of around 65,000 gallons happened in the same area on May 27, 2021.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Samsung Austin Semiconductor, Harris Branch Creek, toxic waste, Watershed Protection Department, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ

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