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Samsung facility waste spill had 'direct, documented impact' on tributary, TCEQ finds

The acidic waste spill was responsible for killing aquatic life and staining the creek bed and vegetation, the report said.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found Samsung was at fault after a spill at the company’s Austin semiconductor facility poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of acidic waste into a tributary of Harris Branch Creek in January.

The initial spill was reported on Jan. 14 and later outlined in a memo to the Austin City Council that said up to 763,000 gallons of acidic waste reached the storm water pond on the Samsung property and impacted the nearby tributary. The memo, sent by the Watershed Protection Department (WPD), said the spill happened over a period as long as 106 days.

In February, additional spills of more than 8 million gallons of partially treated wastewater were reported from the facility following recent rainfall. The discharges happened on two separate occasions days apart and flowed into an unnamed tributary of the Harris Branch Creek, different from the tributary that first received a moderate amount from the release of the acidic waste.

Following an investigation, TCEQ found Samsung failed to prevent an unauthorized discharge into or adjacent to waters. That discharge had “a direct, documented impact on the habitat of the tributary and confluence of Harris Branch by the removal and killing of an aquatic species,” the report said.

“The discharge also stained the underwater surface of the creek bed and the vegetation along the creek channel,” TCEQ found.

TQEC said pH levels between 6 and 4 will have a detrimental impact on a range of aquatic organisms such as snails, clams, various fish and frogs. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. The sample collected on Jan. 17 at the pond’s outfall, after the spill, had a pH reading of 2. A sample collected on Jan. 21 at the same location showed a pH of 1.91.

“Both readings were well below the range where impacts would be expected,” TCEQ said.

A notice of enforcement letter was sent to Samsung on June 10, TCEQ said. It asks the company to provide compliance documentation that includes measures taken to correct the discharge and what cleanup efforts were used at the detention pond and the tributary of Harris Creek.

Spill investigators with the WPD met with Samsung staff on Jan. 18 and Jan. 19 and were told that the discharge had stopped, the initial memo said.

According to TCEQ, Samsung had addressed the issue by putting sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) into the tributary to counteract the acidity. The tech company also used lime treatment to neutralize the acidity in the stormwater pond.

When the release was discovered on Jan. 14, Samsung said it took immediate action to stop it and remediate impacted areas. The cause was said to be an undetected equipment failure inside one of its buildings that allowed the wastewater to flow into the site's stormwater system. The company has since reportedly improved monitoring systems and is implementing "strong countermeasures to ensure this does not happen again."

A Samsung spokesperson released the following statement:

"In alignment with our core value of environmental stewardship, we are committed, and had immediately taken action, to fully restore and improve the quality of the unnamed tributary.

"We have been completely transparent with the TCEQ and representatives of other governmental agencies throughout the response.

"We also regularly engaged with the surrounding community and neighboring property owners to keep them informed of the facts related to the release.

"We have thoroughly investigated the root cause, added improved monitoring systems and are implementing strong countermeasures to ensure this does not happen again."


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