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Waterways beginning to recover from Samsung acid waste spill

Friday, May 20, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The tributary of Harris Branch Creek in Northeast Austin is beginning to recover from an acid waste spill that killed off the creek’s aquatic life.

Samsung’s semiconductor facility discharged as much as 763,000 gallons of the acidic waste into its stormwater pond and a connecting tributary in January. The spill caused the pH of the waterway to drop to a fatal level for virtually all of the aquatic creatures who called the creek home. But after several months of monitoring, Katie Coyne, an environmental officer at the city’s Watershed Protection Department, told the Environmental Commission that various species are beginning to bounce back. Water quality monitoring and an investigation of the incident are ongoing.

Coyne reported that a consultant hired by Samsung completed an aquatic survey in several areas of the tributary in late April “that assessed the ecological conditions within the water. The report noted diverse aquatic and biological life within the tributary, including multiple species of fish and invertebrates present.”

The Harris Branch Homeowners Association is working with Samsung to identify areas along the tributary where the ecosystem can be enhanced. The areas have been staked and will be reviewed in the coming weeks to identify next steps.

Coyne also noted that Samsung is working with Watershed staff to repair its on-site retention pond and dredge the contaminated sediment at the bottom of the pond. The dredging is estimated to be completed in early June, at which point the department will help the company get the pond functioning again.

“This will consist of a final water quality measurement followed by a volume loss test and assessment of aquatic species within the pond that includes the plant and the fish ecosystem,” Coyne told the commission.

Watershed has not found any indications of further pollutants discharging into the waterway. The department will continue to monitor the tributary weekly until the stormwater pond has returned to production. 

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