Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Residents in Corpus Christi were caught by surprise Wednesday evening as city officials announced a ban on using the city’s water after a chemical made its way into the supply.
The announcement was made late Wednesday by the city. Thursday morning, a city official confirmed the contamination is from one chemical, Indulin AA86, according to a Corpus Christi Caller-Times report. Officials believe there's anywhere from 3 to 24 gallons of the chemical in the water supply, the newspaper reported.
A Wednesday release from the city attributes the contamination to “a recent back-flow incident in the industrial district.”
“In an abundance of caution and until we can investigate further and have the water tested, avoid all contact with the tap water,” the release state.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office was “aggressively monitoring” the situation, according to a statement, and coordinating with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Department of Emergency Management, which was directed to organize shipments of water to Corpus Christi.
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been directed to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure this matter is handled as swiftly as possible, while maintaining the highest standards of safety,” the statement said.
TCEQ spokeswoman Andrew Morrow said in a statement that the state agency was coordinating with local and federal agencies and "sampling to determine the extent of potential impact."
In response to the situation, several local school districts canceled classes Thursday.
Among those canceling classes is the Corpus Christi Independent School District, which has about 39,000 students and more than 5,000 staff members, according to Leanne Winkler Libby, director of communications for the district.
“We do understand that it can always be an inconvenience, particularly for families with young children, but we felt due to the safety issue — in addition to the drinking water you have water for washing hands, water for preparing food and all that sort of thing — that the prudent thing to do was go ahead and cancel,” Libby said.
The Caller-Times also reported from the scene of a local grocery store that had sold out of bottled water. Crowds of people were waiting for a new shipment to arrive by truck.
Three area members of the Legislature – State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Reps. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, and state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi — urged residents to comply with the water-use ban.
“Public safety is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that our residents have access to a safe supply of water," the lawmakers said in a joint statement Thursday morning. "Please be vigilant of all public notices and discontinue tap water usage citywide until further notice."
City spokeswoman Kim Womack held a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday where she said the city is requesting state assistance. Cities in the area such as Beeville and Taft are also helping to bring in water.
At the conference, Womack said a donor has also allocated 27,000 cases of water to be distributed throughout the city.
It’s unclear when the water ban will be lifted.
“There have been no substantial changes in the ability to lift the water situation as we have it, and it has been since last night,” Womack said. “We continue to work with the property owner. We continue to work with our state regulators. Our local delegation is continuing to work very hard to restore water as soon as possible.”
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this month that there is scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact the nation's drinking water resources under some circumstances.
- Tens of thousands of Texans live in places where the drinking water contains toxic levels of arsenic — a known carcinogen — and the state isn’t doing enough to discourage them from consuming it, according to a report from an environmental group released in March.