Samsung's Big Leak: "Up to 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid" spilled into an Austin TX tributary

Originally published at: Samsung's Big Leak: "Up to 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid" spilled into an Austin TX tributary | Boing Boing


I’d just like to point out that 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid has a lot of value as an ingredient…

So, if this is unused sulfuric acid, then someone is really bad at their job and accounting for expenses.

On the flip side, disposing of 763,000 gallons of used waste acid is an expensive prospect, and someone is really bad at their job (didn’t realize that they weren’t having to pay as much for waste disposal/processing).

Or… and bear with me on this one… They absolutely fucking knew about it, and were just wondering how long it could go on for $ savings. (or it was a fully intentional and illegal dumping of industrial waste).


If it went on for 106 days, they absolutely knew it was leaking. There’s simply no rational scenario where this wasn’t blindingly obvious to someone inside the facility. Someone who kept their mouth shut for over three months


Or, they reported it to management and were sent “swimming.”


Or it’s acidic waste, and the acid is sulfuric acid–but the concentration is so low, you’d need a hundred bucks worth of electronics to tell it from orange juice.

Without some sort of indication of the pH levels involved–in the toxic waste, in the tributary, in the creek, SOMEWHERE–you can’t tell a major disaster from a minor oops.


Dimensions of a 500,000 gallon tank:

500000 Gallon SteelCore Corrugated Bolted Steel Tank with dimensions of 74.3 feet in diameter and 17.9 High.

(I have the feeling that sulfuric acid in a zinc galvanized steel tank would be a bad idea. Better ask a chemical engineer.)

1 Like

Point taken, but if you’re inexplicably losing over 3/4 of a million gallons of anything, that really should be accounted for.

If it’s really the equivalent of say a standard 5 gallon OTC (from an auto shop) container mixed in with 762,995 gallons of cleaned wastewater (that is allowed to be released into the waterway), that’s one thing.

If the initial leak site was their overflow pond (pH not reported), then the tributary (noted to have measurable/significant pH drop), then the creek (no measurable pH drop), then your point that this is not high molarity acid is well taken. But… we don’t know the leakage rate from the pond only the volume that supposedly made it to the pond. Would be interesting to know the pH of that pond…


Another beautiful day in Texass.


The eco-friendly announcement comes only a few weeks after Samsung stopped a 106-day toxic spill in Austin, Texas. More than 760,000 gallons of sulfuric acid waste drained into a stormwater pond over a period of 106 days, killing virtually all aquatic life in the local tributary.

“process water” …


The tributary water pH was below 4, which will kill all but the most extreme acidophiles

eta: from the city of Austin:
“Environmental scientists found remains of dead aquatic species; and virtually no surviving aquatic life within the affected stretch”


Mission accomplished.

1 Like

Why is it always sulfuric and never lysergic?


1 Like

Can’t possibly be the case. After all, all the tech and financial press are talking about how environmentally friendly Samsung are! Why, they just announced a phone that includes recycled fishing line in the plastic!!

1 Like

This. Thank you, Scientist.
“Pure sulfuric acid” (or, at least greater than 90%) is easily obtainable for labs/industries. If it was in the harmless range, Samsung would have said that, ie “We dumped a dilute solution of sulfuric acid, no more acidic than cola/orange juice”. They’re NOT saying the ph or the concentration indicates it was in their best interest not too.

They should charge the CEO’s and local site managers with illegal dumping, animal cruelty, if there’s anyone who was hurt, assault.


Maybe they did, in 2016. It would explain a lot.


I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, but the podcast linked at the bottom seems very… “artistic”

I wonder how large this facility is. Where I work we use sulfuric acid as part of our wash process. The wash system is more or less self contained and has a waste treatment system built into it. From my understanding the processed waste water is discharged into the local water system (I think more like city water supply, not local water streams). I know we have several monitoring stations for ground water discharge and run off that should catch something like this, not to mention routine water sampling required by the EPA. At least that’s what our environmental team tells us each year during training. I feel like there is more to this story than oops we had a leak.

1 Like

I suspect that, even had it been dilute enough to be uninteresting as sulfuric acid, it would not have been a minor incident. Less immediately lethal to aquatic organisms, definitely; but still other considerations at play. The Samsung facility in Austin is a chip fab, which means that the sulfuric acid is most likely being used in various cleaning/etching steps. That likely means that it has picked up a grab bag of photoresist and mask compounds, various metals that CVD ended up depositing in places other than the desired target; and probably some other stuff I’m not aware of(there’s a lot of fascinating chemistry, more than a bit of it treated as trade secret, in semiconductor manufacturing).

I also don’t know, but wouldn’t rule out, the possibility that there may be some mixing between the sulfuric acid used for washing/etching and the hydrofluoric acid and other zesty halogens used for similar purposes; so atypical amounts of chlorine, fluorine, or both wouldn’t be a surprise.

Given that Samsung Austin has been recognized for Excellence in Pretreatment by the City of Austin for 9 consecutive years they presumably have measures in place built on their own knowledge of what exactly they are using the sulfuric acid for and what it may be picking up along the way; but it seems like a safe assumption that those processes may have never been run against this stuff.