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Free-For-All With Furfural Kills 9 Million Fish

Date Posted: September 6, 2000

On the afternoon of January 25, 2000, a tanker truck hauling 9000 gallons of furfural near Brownsville, TX, overturned, spilling its contents into a storm drain leading to San Martin Lake and into Brownsville Ship Channel. Furfural is a colorless, oily liquid made from corncobs that is used in making such things as synthetic rubber and nylon and as a fungicide and weed killer. San Martin Lake consist of a series of seven miles channels leading to an expanse of tidal mud/sand flats which are used extensively by thousands of birds. Over 50 species of shore and wading birds, gulls, terns and waterfowl, in addition to numerous fish and invertebrates inhabit this area.

From the very beginning, this hazardous material spill was not your average spill. It took on an international flavor all its own. The truck loaded furfural at the Port of Brownsville and was en route to Matamoros, Mexico. It was owned by a Mexican company and the driver did not have proper documentation or insurance, having purchased a 24 hour insurance policy which was on the 30th hour when the incident occurred. Having no viable responsible party, the US Coast Guard took over authority and accessed Superfund for funding. Service contaminants staff were asked to assist in identifying natural resources at risk, advising on ways to minimize fish and wildlife damages and recommending cleanup and restoration options.

Approximately 9 million fish, most of which are major food sources for birds, were killed in the incident. Numerous sediment and water samples were taken until results indicated the area was again safe. Long term monitoring is continuing. The Department of Transportation is evaluating what avenues to take to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring. Note: The Mexican truck and driver are both back safely across the border.

Ken Rice, (361)994-9005.

Last updated: June 12, 2015