Corpus Christi is America’s newest Flint


The name of the Texas coastal community called Corpus Christi translates literally as “the body of Christ.” But what’s been happening over the last few days with the water in this oil-and-chemical city and its drinking water has been anything but holy. Instead, Corpus Christi is joining the growing list of American cities whose tap water has been compromised, either from aging and eroding lead pipes or, increasingly, from activities linked to chemical plants or other industrial sites. Of course, the trailblazer in bringing the issue to the front burner — albeit briefly — has been Flint, Michigan, where a change to more corrosive water and its aging lead pipes poisoned the water for thousands of families, raising blood-lead levels in some kids. But since then, we’ve learned there’s too many other Flints across the United States.

In Corpus Christi, public officials were shocked to find Indulin AA-86, an asphalt emulsifier which can burn human skin in concentrated form, in the city’s tap water:

On Wednesday the city of 320,000 people announced that residents should not touch, drink or use the water. The ban has since been lifted for some city dwellers while officials investigate the origin of the spill.

After a night-time meeting of the city council on Thursday, officials released a map of the city, showing that residents in the outlying regions could resume using city tap water. Angry residents had gathered outside city hall throughout the day to call for answers and to chant “What do we want? Clean water! When do we want it? Now!”.

As of Friday morning, about 15% of city residents were told they could use their water.

So what do officials believe happened?

City officials believe between three and 24 gallons of the chemical — Indulin AA-86, an asphalt emulsifier — contaminated the water distribution system near the 6700 block of Up River Road. It has not been confirmed if the chemical spread to other parts of the distribution system.

The contamination led to widespread school closures, cancellation of sporting and holiday events and closed area businesses that rely on water to serve customers.

A second meeting between state and federal agencies, city staff and local elected leaders was held over the water issue that has perplexed seasoned water scientists because of its complexity and rarity at 8 p.m. News of the partial lift was announced after the meeting.

The local state representative, Rep. Todd Hunter, voiced understandable outrage over what happened and the public impact. “We owe it to the public to get answers in a timely manner,” Hunter told the Caller-Times newspaper… ‘We can’t just keep floating from one update to the next while we try to figure out the science. Because this type of contamination is rare, state and federal agencies do not have an established testing procedure, so it’s unclear how long the testing could take to remove the water use advisory completely.”

This type of chemical or oil-related water contamination is happening again and again — across the United States and especially in the state of Texas, where the large energy companies rule the roost. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the current direction of America is not moving in the direction of solving these problems. To the contrary, President-elect Donald Trump just rewarded the former Texas governor who handed his state over to Big Oil, by naming him to the critical post of energy secretary. Trump has also promised to roll back what he calls “job-killing regulations” — the kind of regulations that aim to make the tap water in a place like Corpus Christi safe to drink. This is a looming national tragedy.

Read more about the contamination of Corpus Christi drinking water from the BBC:

More on the water crisis from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2016 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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