An overturned tanker truck loaded with acid closed Highway 5 for about 15 hours the weekend before last.
The incident occurred at about 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 10, as the result of a collision between the semi and a minivan just east of the Raft River bridge in Clearwater.
Two occupants of the minivan were taken by ambulance to Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.
The driver of the truck reportedly walked away from the crash.
With the highway blocked for so long, several hundred vehicles were lined up until traffic got moving again at about 2 a.m. on Monday.
Traffic was diverted at Valemount and Little Fort. Some travelers made their way south from Vavenby by way of the Adams Lake forest service road.
Clearwater Volunteer Fire Department and other local emergency responders had used an incident involving a spill involving corrosive chemicals at Raft River bridge for a table-top exercise just a year or two ago, said fire department spokesperson Guy Holland.
Their training stood them in good stead when they arrived on the scene, he said. They were able to identify the cargo from the placards on the truck. With that knowledge they cordoned off an area for 150 m around the crash. Until the all clear was given, any firefighter crossing that perimeter wore his or her air tanks.
The fire department was on the scene from before noon until late afternoon, said Holland. Members returned to the scene at about 9 p.m. for several more hours while special corrosive-resistant pumps were used to empty the tanker. The process involved drilling three holes in succession in the tank at high, medium and low locations, he said. After the tank was empty a tow truck righted the vehicle and it was removed.
About 18,000 liters of a 15 per cent solution of hydrochloric and phosphoric acid spilled from the tanker into a nearby ditch, according to Rick Wagner, an environmental emergency response officer.
The Ministry of Environment official praised Clearwater Volunteer Fire Department members and other first responders for the systematic way they isolated the area, gathered information and notified the appropriate people and agencies.
The acidic solution had been produced by a manufacturer in the Lower Mainland and was on its way to a pulp mill in the Peace River district, Wagner said.
An initial sample of the soil removed from the site was sent to a facility in Princeton that is approved to receive hazardous wastes, he said.
The remainder is being stockpiled at a local gravel pit.
The plan is to counteract the acid with a neutralizing agent such as lime. It then could safely be used as cover material for Clearwater’s landfill, the environmental official said.
Determining how much soil to remove was relatively straightforward, he reported. A pH meter was used to detect the acidity.
The Ministry of Environment will continue in an oversight role on the cleanup to ensure it meets provincial standards, he added.
“I think it went well,” Wagner commented. “The people who responded did a good job. No one was hurt and the environment was protected.”