I-40 re-opened after tanker turnover

Apr 22, 2014

A portion of Interstate 40 near the Tennessee state line was closed for nearly 12 hours after a box truck carrying sodium chlorite overturned Monday afternoon.

The N.C. Department of Transportation worked with local emergency management, the Junaluska Fire Department, Asheville Fire Department and HAZMAT crews out of Asheville to close the interstate starting at Exit 20 near Maggie Valley to the Tennessee line after the accident happened near mile marker 6 around 3 p.m.

When firefighters from Junaluska Fire Department arrived on the scene, they saw the truck had overturned on its side and landed on the right hand lane and shoulder, said Fire Chief Charles Wood.

The truck had been carrying 12 large plastic containers filled with sodium chlorite, five of which broke open and were leaking. Altogether, Wood said about 1,000 gallons of the chemical was leaked.

Fire fighters dammed the chemical from making its way into culverts leading to the river and a HAZMAT team from Asheville came to help assess the situation. Fire fighters also worked to stop a diesel fuel leak from the truck.

"We were worried about what kind of reaction it would have if those products mixed," Wood said.

Sodium chlorite is a "very strong bleach," said Jordan-Ashley Baker, public information officer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

"You come into contact with bleach on a daily basis in the household, but you don't want to breathe in large amounts of that chemical," Baker said.

Those who had stopped at the nearby rest area were led to the detour away from the area of the wreck. No injuries were reported.

A chemical cleanup company used a vacuum truck to suck the product off the road, Wood said. Any chemical that remains on the dirt will likely be dug up.

Greg Shuping, emergency management director for Haywood County, said he helped coordinate efforts with the Highway Patrol and other agencies to activate a portion of the traffic plan that was used during the I-40 rock slide in October 2009.

He said the situation, if not handled promptly and correctly, could have been catastrophic.

Water samples taken from the nearby river were tested on the scene and came back normal, Shuping added.

Sgt. Josh Dowdle with the NC Highway Patrol said the driver, Luther Williams with Wicker Services Inc., ran off the road after exceeding a safe speed on the curvy interstate.

The wreck is still being investigated to determine whether the load was secured properly, he said.

The eastbound lanes reopened Monday about 5:30 p.m., but the westbound lanes remained at a near standstill for several hours after the accident as traffic was forced to take Exit 20 because both lanes were closed.

The left westbound lane reopened about 3 a.m. and both lanes opened by Tuesday morning.

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