Report: Corpus Christi chemical leak reported a week before warning

By DAVID WARREN and FRANK BAJAK

Associated Press

DALLAS — A chemical leak from an asphalt plant that led Corpus Christi officials to warn residents this week not to drink the water was apparently reported a week earlier, according to an email from a state environmental official that was obtained Friday.

The internal email sent Wednesday by Susan Clewis, a regional director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, contained an incident report that described the leak as a “backflow incident from a chemical tank impacting the public water system.” It was reported Dec. 7 at a plant run by Ergon Asphalt and Emulsions.

The email doesn’t say who initially reported the leak on Dec. 7 or to whom. It says the state environmental agency was notified around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, when city officials warned the public.

“Obviously we are concerned about that initial report, that this may have been known for seven days and it may have been going on for that long. And why did it take so long for TCEQ to get notified?” asked Luis Moreno, chief of staff for state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, whose district includes Corpus Christi. “Those are all things that I think are starting to be figured out right now.”

Dan McQueen, the mayor of the Gulf Coast city of about 300,000 people, has said local officials also only learned of the leak on Wednesday.

Neither Clewis nor city officials responded to requests for comment on Friday, when many schools remained closed for a second day.

The TCEQ report indicates that a combination of Indulin AA-86 and hydrochloric acid leaked into the water supply.

Indulin is an asphalt emulsifying agent that’s corrosive and can burn the eyes, skin and respiratory tract if a person comes into contact with concentrated amounts. The amber liquid is considered a hazardous material by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and could cause damage to internal organs.

“You don’t expect to see it in water,” said Terry Clawson, a spokesman with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Up to 24 gallons of it may have seeped into a pipeline carrying water, allowing it to move to other areas of the city, said Kim Womack, a spokeswoman for the city.