Samsung Austin: 2.9 million liters of sulfuric acid waste leaked into nature


Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Austin, Texas, has had an unnoticed leak of sulfuric acid waste for months. These first found their way into Samsung’s own stormwater pond and from there into a tributary of Harris Branch Creek in northeast Austin.

It is estimated that around 2.9 million liters of the sulfuric acid waste spilled into the tributary over a 106-day period. Samsung contacted the relevant authorities about the leak on January 18, 2022. Samsung immediately stopped the runoff into nature by isolating the rainwater pond.

In the semiconductor factory in Austin, Samsung produces chips with structure widths of up to 14 nanometers. Among other things, SSD controllers run off the tape at the site.

The pH of the tributary at this point was a low 3 to 4, which is on par with vinegar. The water was so acidic that all aquatic life died, including fish and macroinvertebrates. On January 19, 2022, the pH had already stabilized at 6.7 to 8.5. The possible long-term effects, for example on the groundwater, are unknown.

The affected tributary extends over a length of more than 2 km.

(Bild: Watershed Protection Department / Google Maps)

Meanwhile, further downstream, no measurable impacts on water chemistry or aquatic life were observed, one said Bericht des Watershed Protection Department (WPD).

Furthermore, the authority writes: “WPD receives daily updated information from Samsung about the rehabilitation of the rainwater pond and will check the integrity of the pond after the completion of the rehabilitation and before it is put back into operation. In addition, WPD will carry out weekly examinations of the affected tributary to determine the water quality parameters, including pH, until all remedial actions are completed.”

In a Opinion towards CBS Austin (currently unavailable, via Tom’s Hardware) Samsung wrote that much of its own chemical waste did not end up in the environment. The company now wants to actively participate in the treatment of the nearby tributary.


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