Corpus Christi halts tap water use due to suspected chemical leak

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 10:55 AM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas city of Corpus Christi told its nearly 320,000 residents on Thursday to stop using tap water due to possible contamination from an industrial chemical leak and said it will distribute bottled water to residents.

The city said it was investigating the possible leak of up to 24 gallons (91 liters) of an asphalt emulsifier called Indulin AA-86. The governor's office said it will ship drinking water to the city and is "aggressively monitoring" the situation.

The chemical can cause eye and skin burns, respiratory tract irritation and damage to the digestive systems but is not known to be carcinogenic, according to safety data.

"Do not try to treat the water yourself. Boiling, freezing, filtering, adding chlorine or other disinfectants, or letting the water stand will not make the water safe," the city said in a statement.

The Gulf of Mexico coastal city, home to oil and petrochemicals operations and a large port, asked residents to use only bottled water and to avoid showering with tap water until it could verify the water supply was safe.

The city expected water testing results later on Thursday and told residents to discontinue tap water use at least until then. Local officials plan to set up spots in the city to distribute bottled water.

City spokeswoman Kim Womack said several area cities and supermarkets are donating water, and she appealed to others to send drinking water to Corpus Christi.

"We feel very grateful that people are coming to our aid," Womack told a news conference.

The chemical may have contaminated Corpus Christi's drinking water due to a "back-flow incident in the industrial district," the city said, without providing further details.

Energy company Valero said it believed the possible backflow problem came from third-party operations in the area of its asphalt terminal.

"While the City continues to investigate this issue, we do not believe the City's water has been impacted," it said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Andrew Hay and Dan Grebler)