Corpus Christi Awaits State Test Results on Drinking Water

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Officials in Corpus Christi released few details Friday on a suspected chemical leak into the Texas city’s public water system as they awaited test results from the state to determine whether the water was safe to consume.

Mayor Dan McQueen said at a news briefing that he hopes the tests show that residents across the Gulf Coast city of 320,000 can drink the water. But he didn’t address how the chemical may have entered the public water system from an industrial plant or when city officials were first notified of a problem at the plant.

Officials on Wednesday warned all residents to stop using the water, including for consumption and showers, because a harmful chemical had leaked from the plant. The city released a map late Thursday showing areas where the water had been deemed safe, but most residents were asked to still refrain from using tap water.

Ergon Asphalt and Emulsions Inc. said in a statement that it has been in contact with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and was “working cooperatively to provide all information to ensure state officials can remedy the situation as quickly as possible.”

The statement from the Mississippi-based company, which specializes in the development of engineered paving and pavement preservation products, did not take responsibility for the spill. However, City Councilwoman Carolyn Vaughn told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the city believes Ergon was responsible.

The company didn’t respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The leak has forced school closures and disrupted commerce. On Friday, city officials said plenty of bottled water has been donated to help residents.

City spokeswoman Kim Womack told KRIS-TV on Thursday that officials did not find a “backflow preventer” at the site. “They’re saying there is one and we’re telling them ‘show us,'” she said.

“In the simplest terms, someone was careless when they were injecting chemicals with a pump and … when the injection occurred, it crossed over into our water system,” she told KRIS-TV.

Anywhere from three to 24 gallons of the chemical got into the water system. It is an asphalt emulsifier that can burn the skin in concentrated amounts.

“We haven’t confirmed that this product is even in the flow system,” McQueen said Thursday.

City councilman Michael Hunter told the Caller-Times early Thursday that it was unlikely that the leaked chemicals were concentrated enough to do harm, but that officials must take every precaution.

The TCEQ said it has initiated “multiple measures,” including sampling “to determine the extent of potential impact.” Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott said his office is coordinating with the TCEQ and other state agencies.

The incident is the latest in a string of water scares for Corpus Christi. In May, the city issued its third boil-water advisory in a year as a precaution after nitrogen-rich runoff from rain flowed into the water system, resulting in low chlorine disinfectant levels in the water supply.

Boil-water notices were issued last year because of elevated levels of E. coli and another for low chlorine levels, the Caller-Times previously reported. The notices mirrored two others that were issued in 2007.

City crews have worked to reconfigure some water mains to ensure that water keeps circulating and to prevent bacteria growth. But an overarching concern is an old water system where more than half of 225 miles of cast-iron pipe needs to be upgraded.

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