Crisis in Corpus Christi, Texas, with toxic contaminated water from an "industrial 'back-flow incident,'"wreaking havoc on over 300,000 residents. #PrayForCorpus
Updated 5:52 pm, Thursday, December 15, 2016
Photo: Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News
The suit was filed in Nueces County on behalf of local businesses, including Anthony’s Aveda Concept Salon that had to close because of the lack of water. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Two chemicals may have been released into the public water system Wednesday, according to state officials. The leak first came to light that day when workers at the refinery noticed a sheen to the water coming from its faucets, said Deanna McQueen, a Corpus Christi city spokeswoman.
Texas officials are “aggressively monitoring” the situation, calling on state health, emergency management and industry regulators to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a statement from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. The Texas Department of Emergency Management is coordinating shipments of water to Corpus Christi in the meantime.
“Governor Abbott’s top priority is a transparent response and the safety of Corpus Christi residents, and our office will continue to provide any and all support to remedy this situation as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said the company’s refineries in Corpus Christi weren’t the source of the contamination. The company blamed the problem on Jackson, Mississippi-based Ergon, which has a Corpus Christi location near Valero’s West refinery on property owned by Valero Marketing and Supply Co., according to the Nueces County Appraisal District.
“While we have been named in lawsuits, we are not the source of the contamination in question. We continue to believe this is a localized backflow issue from Ergon in the area of Valero’s asphalt terminal,” Riojas said in an email, adding that the company is cooperating with regulators and providing truckloads of bottled water to residents. “Valero is offering its resources to assist in isolating the issue and helping to confirm the City’s water supply is safe.”
The city identified Indulin AA-86, an emulsifying agent for asphalt, as the main hazard. It’s an amber liquid considered hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that can cause eye and skin burns and severe respiratory tract irritation, according to the chemical Material Safety Data Sheet.
Up to 24 gallons of the chemical may have leaked into the water supply beginning Wednesday, city officials said. City Councilman Michael Hunter told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that it’s unlikely the chemicals are concentrated enough to do harm, but officials are “taking every precaution that we can.”
Resident Lisa Olivares, who lives about five blocks from the Corpus Christi Bay, said she first learned not to drink the water from a local TV news report around 2 a.m. Thursday. Since then, she's heard nothing from the city about the contamination or where it came from "We can't bathe, we can't do dishes, we can't wash clothes," she said. "Our city is not telling us anything."
H-E-B spokeswoman Dya Campos said the San Antonio-based supermarket chain has been shipping bottles and gallons of water on 18-wheeler trucks to its 10 stores in Corpus Christi since Wednesday night. The company is also bringing in water tankers from around the region to provide clean water for its store operations, Campos said.
Corpus Christi customers are limited to three cases of water per purchase, Campos said.
“By putting a limit on case purchases, we can make sure all customers have access to the water they need throughout the day,” Campos said.
Valero Energy, the nation’s largest refiner, has two plants at its Bill Greehey refinery complex in Corpus Christi. The plants have a combined capacity of 325,000 barrels per day and are located along the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. The city’s industrial district is located north of Interstate 37 near downtown and along Nueces Bay.
The Port of Corpus Christi said it was complying with the notice to discontinue the use of tap water and is in touch with customers, but it has other water sources available.
“Port Corpus Christi continues to notify customers who may be using the Port facilities of the ban and will continue to keep customers aware and updated on the situation as we know more,” the port said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Port Corpus Christi has water supply from other sources including San Patricio Water District which is not affected by the ban. Port Corpus Christi will continue its diligence on keeping customers current on the situation and supporting maritime operations as needed.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which enforces federal clean water rules, said it’s begun sampling the water supply in Corpus Christi to determine the extent of the problem, spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said in an email.
It’s not the first time the city has had trouble with its water supply. The TCEQ ordered residents to boil water after low levels of chlorine disinfectant and chlorine were found in the supply in May and September 2015, respectively.
Staff Writer Madalyn Mendoza and the Associated Press contributed to this article.