SIDNEY — A tanker truck traveling south on Interstate 75 sprang a leak as it neared the exit at Ohio 47 in Sidney Tuesday morning and spewed liquid anhydrous ammonia into the air for several hours.
The Dave Hausbeck Trucking (DHT) vehicle had filled up in Lima and was carrying some 70,000 gallons of the liquid that is used on farms in fertilizer. The chemical also has various industrial applications. The driver told Sidney Daily News partner WDTN-TV that he “was flagged by another motorist and pulled over to investigate.” He parked on the exit ramp of Exit 92 and called 911.
The call came at 9:37 a.m., Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones told the Sidney Daily News.
More than 50 people from Sidney Fire Department, Sidney Police Department, Shelby County Hazardous Materials Team, Perry-Port-Salem Rescue, Anna Fire Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol Piqua Post, Ohio Department of Transportation, Ohio EPA, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio hazardous materials response team, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Hazmat Group consulting company representatives, Potash (the company that had loaded the tank), and DHT converged on the scene. All off-duty Sidney firefighters were recalled to duty.
“Anhydrous ammonia can cause burning of the eyes, nose, and throat after breathing even small amounts. With higher doses, coughing or choking may occur. Exposure to high levels of anhydrous ammonia can cause death from a swollen throat or from chemical burns to the lungs. Eye exposure to concentrated gas or liquid can cause serious corneal burns or blindness. Generally, the severity of symptoms depends on the degree of exposure,” according to the website, www.ndhealth.gov.
After initially applying water to the ammonia tank, firefighters redirected the hose stream to suppress the airborne ammonia vapors in order to limit their spread downwind. Workers in haz-mat suits who returned from efforts to stem the leak stood in a large tub on a special mat filling about half the width of Michigan Street. They were hosed down before removing their suits.
Interstate 75 was closed from Ohio 29 to U.S. 36 in Piqua. In Sidney, Michigan Street was closed from Vandemark Road to Fourth Street. Fourth Street was closed from Michigan to Russell Road and Russell Road was closed to the interstate. Jones said that the county’s Hyper-reach notification system was used to alert residents, employees and shoppers at homes and businesses in that circle to evacuate or stay inside. Evacuations were required from most buildings within a half mile of the incident.
“We can draw a circle on the map and anyone who has a land line or a cell phone that’s been registered in that circle will get the message,” Jones said. “Even truckers on the interstate.”
According to Cheri Drinkwine, director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, the evacuation order applied to about 5,000 people. Sidney City Schools canceled summer school classes for the day. The Sidney Daily News office was evacuated for about an hour. An unidentified staffer at Kroger said that the store had been told to evacuate, “but after management talked to the police, they said we could stay open but just stay inside,” she told the SDN.
A worker at Taco Bell, who refused to identify himself, said no one there had received a call about evacuation.
“The (staff at the) gas station (which is next door to the restaurant) was called and told us,” he said. The restaurant remained open, but with roads closed in all directions around it, business was scant.
“We had seven cars from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said Assistant Manager Robin Armour. The usual number of cars is 150. She would not estimate how much money the eatery lost Tuesday.
A call to Buffalo Wild Wings was not answered at 3:30 p.m. An SDN reporter was told that restaurant evacuated and closed for the day. A Sidney resident who made his way to Walgreens to pick up prescription medicine for a client found the pharmacy closed and dark.
Snarled traffic off the interstate as far north as Botkins and south in Piqua brought travel to a standstill throughout most of the afternoon as side streets clogged with big rigs and cars seeking alternate routes. A multi-vehicle accident at Exit 106 of I-75, reportedly involving several semis, may have been caused by the back-up. Additional details on the accident were not immediately available.
At about 1:30 p.m., a second DHT tanker slowly pulled off the southbound I-75 entrance ramp at Michigan Street and moved next to the disabled tanker so the transfer of what was left of the product could take place. The transfer was expected to take several hours.
Staff at the DHT home office in Reese, Michigan, refused to comment on the incident.
Lt. Joseph Gebhart of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said OSHP motor carrier units, civilians, would inspect the truck after haz-mat officials declared it safe. Volunteers with the Northern Miami Valley chapter of the American Red Cross were there to take care of first responders, offering food and water.
Local officials began to open the interstate and various Sidney intersections at about 3:30 p.m. Enough ammonia had been transferred to the second tanker by then for the incident to be declared under control. The evacuation order was lifted for all areas except Bob Evans Restaurant and the Days Inn. At press time, both businesses were still closed.
Firefighters were expected to remain at the scene throughout the evening until the ammonia transfer process was complete, according to a press release by the fire department at 5:40 p.m. Michigan Street over I-75 remained closed at press time.
There were no reports of injury or serious ammonia exposure during this incident, the release said.