Less than two weeks ago, residents of Corpus Christi, Texas were abruptly warned to stop using their tap water after an asphalt chemical leaked into the municipal water supply in what the local government labeled a “back-flow incident in the industrial district.” Though most of the chemicals involved in the leak have not been identified, officials have since confirmed then presence of Indulin AA86, a toxic asphalt emulsifying agent known for its corrosiveness as well as its ability to cause severe burns on skin contact. Official estimates suggest that between 3 and 24 gallons of the chemical leaked into the water supply along with other chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid and indoline. The city warned that boiling, freezing, filtering, or other actions aimed at removing the chemical would not make the water safe and that residents must use bottled water for all of their needs until the ban is lifted.
Though city officials officially warned residents against using the water on December 15th, the city had received reports of discolored water as early as December 1st, more than two weeks prior. Other reports of discolored and strange-smelling water were filed again on December 7th and 12th, yet the city took no action. Something similar took place during the Flint water crisis, where city officials waited for months before officially warning residents against consuming the contaminated city water supply.
While part of the ban was quickly lifted in part of Corpus Christi, most of the city remains without access to drinking water. Under current restrictions, the city of 300,000 is divided into three different water use zones. The ban has only been lifted in one of those zones where municipal water can now be used normally. In the second zone, however, residents have been warned that they still cannot use the water at all and must continue to rely on bottled water for their daily needs. Residents of the third zone have been told that they may use water for bathing or clothes washing, but should rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking. The ban has led to bottled water shortages throughout the city. “People [are] waiting in aisles with their grocery carts ready for them to put out the new water shipments,” resident Zach Kastelic told CNN.
Corpus Christi residents have expressed their frustration and anger at the city’s and responsible company’s response to the crisis. Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions Inc, the company allegedly responsible for the spill, has already had more than half a dozen lawsuits filed against them. Natural News reported that the delay in testing was largely beyond the city’s control and was largely due to lax U.S. laws that require no safety tests or protocols to be created before chemicals are made commercially available. Because Indulin AA86 is a proprietary chemical, the city had to petition Ergon for more information on the chemical. In a move that surely raised eyebrows, the company forced the city to sign a non-disclosure agreement before revealing the substance’s chemical formula. The EPA then had to develop a test to detect the presence of the chemical in the water, which also explains the delay in water quality tests. It remains to be seen how long the complete lifting of the ban will be delayed or if Corpus Christi will instead become the next Flint, Michigan.