Chemical Spill Shuts Down Major Interstate

By: Venton Blandin
By: Venton Blandin

It was definitely not the day to get anywhere in the Valley as a chemical spill shut down Interstate 81, sending traffic to the one of the area's other main arteries leaving many stranded.

It happened just before 9 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, February 5th along the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 at mile marker 231. Officials say a tractor-trailer carrying chemicals caught fire after the brakes began sparking.

Weyers Cave fire teams were the first on the scene, and found the tractor-trailer engulfed in flames. Police shut down the Interstate in both directions due to smoke, as well as the potential for hazardous fumes from the chemicals.

Twenty-five residents around route 616 were evacuated, and given shelter at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

The driver, Farris E. Tooley, of the truck was not injured in the fire.

"He unhooked the tractor and the trailer caught on fire. The tractor had no fire in it. Unfortunately, the trailer had seven hazardous materials", Lieutenant Joe Rader, a Virginia State Police Spokesperson said.

Haz-mat teams from Harrisonburg were brought in to gain control of the situation. The crews dealt with several different chemicals at the scene of the truck fire. According to a report from officials at the scene, seven chemicals totaling nearly 40,000 gallons caught fire.

A chemist was dispatched to the scene immediately in an attempt to neutralize the liquids on the ground and still flowing from the truck to determine if there was a threat to people in the area. The chemist counted 73 barrels inside the truck's trailer. The chemicals were:

- Ammonium Bifluoride
- Chromic Acid
- Silver Nitrate
- Sodium Bichromate
- Sodium Hydroxide
- Nitric Acid
- Phosporic Acid

These chemicals which are primarily used as a bactericide for some industries, were found not to pose any threat, so area residents were allowed back in to their homes.

The driver of the truck was driving the chemicals from Springfield, MA to Logistics International Georgia based in Duluth, GA. He has been charged with not properly placarding his truck with the materials he was hauling, as well as not having his logbook properly updated.

Interstate 81 was a mess, and caused a great deal of traffic problems around the Staunton leaving many motorists stuck in traffic for hours.

"We saw a sign that said about 20 to 30 miles ahead there is going to be a detour. I was worried that it would be this exit, and a few miles before this exit, their was already a back up. I don't know how far it extended, said David McClure, a motorist from Howard County, MD.

With I-81 shut down, many travelers were forced to take alternate roads to get to their destinations. Many of the gas stations in the area became a pit stop for motorists as drivers found other ways to get around.

"What happened?", asked a traveler.

Many of the motorist didn't have a clue as to what happened as they had to wait it out.

"There was a sign that said backup but it didn't say for what reason", said another driver.

Many of those backups lasted some eight hours before people were able to get around the accident.

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