Truck Overturns in Arizona, Spills Nitric Acid, Triggers Shelter-in-Place Alert
Truck Overturns in Arizona, Spills Nitric Acid, Triggers Shelter-in-Place Alert

By Mimi Nguyen Ly

An emergency shelter-in-place has been issued for nearby residents after a truck carrying hazardous materials overturned on Feb. 14 on a highway in Tucson, Arizona.

Following a crash, a commercial truck tanker overturned on the Interstate 10 highway eastbound between Rita and Kolb roads, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“The tanker involved in this collision was hauling nitric acid in liquid form,” the Arizona DPS announced on Twitter of the HAZMAT spill.

Footage of the crash posted on Twitter showed reddish-orange mist emanating from an overturned truck tanker. The post was accompanied by a message: “be safe everyone, don’t [breathe] this in.”

Liquid nitric acid is a highly corrosive substance, described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “colorless liquid with yellow or red fumes with an acrid odor.”

In vapor or mist form, it can cause burning sensations to the eyes, nose, skin, and lungs. Exposure to high concentrations of this can cause pneumonitis, bronchitis, and/or pulmonary edema, which can be fatal. These symptoms can be delayed from 4 to 30 hours after exposure. Furthermore, teeth can erode when exposed to the vapor or mist form of nitric acid.

A commercial truck tanker rolled over on Interstate 10 in Tucson, Ariz., on Feb. 14, 2023. (Arizona Department of Public Safety)

Shelter in Place Alert Issued

The Arizona Department of Transport (DOT) announced the crash around 3 p.m. local time. By 5:09 p.m., the Arizona DPS said the tanker was leaking hazardous material.

“Interstate 10 remains closed in both directions between Rita and Kolb roads in Tucson,” per the Arizona DPS. “Motorists should continue to avoid the area and seek an alternate route.” The DPS added in a Twitter post: “We anticipate an extensive closure. Please avoid the area.”

Meanwhile, the Arizona DOT said that there is “no estimated time to reopen the road.”

An emergency alert said that everyone within a one-mile radius of the crash should shelter in place. People are also advised to turn off heaters and air-conditioners that “bring in outside air.”

First responders were working to evacuate the area around where the truck overturned.  The Arizona DPS Hazardous Materials Response Unit and multiple agencies were also working to respond to the incident. The other agencies include Tucson Fire Department, Tucson Police Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Department, and Marana Police Department.

Recent Train Derailment in Ohio Sparks Health, Pollution Concerns

The crash and HAZMAT spill comes after a train that was carrying vinyl chloride derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3.

Crews burned the chemicals in a controlled release on Feb. 6, creating a pillar of dark smoke containing various toxic materials that spread over the town.

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, on Feb. 6, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Local residents have expressed concerns over the health and environmental fallout from the derailment, with some saying their animals have died.

Authorities say various fire combustion chemicals, including volatile organic compounds, are heading downstream in the Ohio River.

Nearby residents have been urged to test their water. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters that if he lived in East Palestine, “I’d be drinking the bottled water.”

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