BRISTOL, Va. (AP) - A truck carrying hydrochloric acid began
leaking its contents on Interstate 81 Tuesday afternoon, causing
police to shut down both sides of the highway for several hours.
Emergency hazardous materials crews spent hours checking the
truck to determine how many of the 66 containers on board had
ruptured and whether there was any danger of an explosion, Bristol
Fire Chief Richard Steinberg said.
Hydrochloric acid creates an explosive gas when it comes in
contact with certain substances, such as asphalt and aluminum, but
Steinberg said there was little chance of an explosion because only
one or two of the 60-gallon containers were leaking.
The fumes had also quickly dissipated in the air, he said.
A private hazmat crew was at the scene late in the afternoon to
begin the cleanup, Steinberg said. No businesses in the area were
evacuated, and there were no reports of serious injuries.
However, state police spokesman Mike Stater said several people
on the scene early had complained of breathing problems and burning
eyes, and one state trooper was taken to the hospital after getting
the fumes in his eyes. He was treated and released.
"If you get the liquid on you, it will burn you," Steinberg
said. "The main thing we were concerned with, though, was the
fumes."
The leak began at about 2 p.m. when the driver of the truck
slammed on his brakes as he approached a construction zone after
Exit 7 on the interstate in city of Bristol, according to Stater.
Steinberg said the driver felt his load shift and saw a trail of
liquid behind the truck, fuming in the air. He immediately pulled
onto the shoulder.
State police shut down a two-mile stretch of the northbound and
southbound lanes a short time later. The northbound lanes reopened
at 5 p.m. after the scene was declared stable.
The southbound lanes were not reopened until 9 p.m. A spokesman
at the Bristol Fire Department said crews managed to pull the
tractor trailer off the highway and onto the exit ramp, where work
was to continue through the night cleaning up the spillage inside
the truck.
Stater said traffic was backed up during the day for seven miles
in either direction on I-81, a major trucking route that cuts
through the Appalachian Mountains from upstate New York to
Tennessee.
"When you shut down 81, you cause a disaster," Steinberg said.
Stater said traffic was rerouted to Route 11, which also became
jammed.
Steinberg said the truck was en route to Jacksonville, Fla.,
where it was to be shipped to a Coca-Cola plant in Puerto Rico.


(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press