Crews keep 200-gallon acid spill from going into waterways near Vail Pass
WHAT’S HYDROCHLORIC ACID?
Hydrochloric acid is a strong corrosive with many industrial uses. The acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride and water. It’s colorless but has a strong odor. It’s found naturally in stomach acid and is found in household cleaners and is used in the production of gelatin and other food additives.
Source: Fisher Scientific
EAGLE COUNTY — A truck driver discovered his cargo trailer was leaking in the early-morning hours of Friday, April 27. That leak put about 200 gallons of hydrochloric acid on the ground but not into local waterways.
The driver pulled the truck off the road without crashing and called for help. That help included crews from the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Vail Fire Department.
The incident closed westbound Interstate 70 for most of that morning. Traffic was re-routed over State Highway 91 over Fremont Pass. A subsequent accident on that road closed that highway for about an hour between about 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.
The spill cleanup was handled by crews working in hazardous material suits. According to the Twitter feed for the Colorado State Patrol’s Eagle division, two-person teams with breathing apparatus went into the truck in shifts to stabilize and unload the remaining acid containers.
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Tracy Trulove, the CDOT public information person for northwest Colorado, said much of the acid was captured in a runoff retention pond atop Vail Pass.
GORE CREEK NOT IMPACTED
Eagle County Environmental Health Department Director Ray Merry said his office wasn’t involved in the cleanup. But, he added, his office is informed about all spills in the area. According to that information, Gore Creek wasn’t affected by this spill.
Merry happened to drive by the site that day and saw crews spreading soda ash — an alkaline — on the acid spill.
Still, the spill was closely monitored by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
In an email, district communications and public affairs manager Diane Johnson wrote, “Whenever we hear of a spill, we are concerned about impacts to Gore Creek (or the Eagle River), the aquifer and potential drinking water supplies. … We can always shut off our ‘intakes’ from local waterways, and we can stop pumping from wells. That’s the first line of defense. We also have a ‘spill time calculator’ that helps us determine the leading and tailing edge of the plume of anything spilled in the river that helps us decide when to pause and resume operations. We did not have to do any of these (on April 27).”
Johnson added that the district received “excellent information” from Vail’s dispatch center and the fire department about how the spill was handled and neutralized.
“While the spill was some nasty stuff, we’re thankful for the quick response and pros on site who handled the incident,” she wrote.
Merry’s department is no stranger to hazardous material spills in the county.
In the 1990s, a railroad tanker car derailed near Camp Hale, headed up Tennessee Pass. That spill put about 70,000 gallons of sulfuric acid on the ground near a pond adjacent to U.S. Highway 24. That pond was closed to fishing for some time. None of the material made it to the Eagle River.
Merry said the question when dealing with spills of either acidic or alkaline material is how close to pH neutral the site needs to be cleaned to.
It can be a complicated formula — although the cleanup on Vail Pass was fairly simple. And there are times when old spills can create new problems. And spills have only been reported in the past 45 years or so.
“Closer to the top of Tennessee Pass, there were some spills of just chunks of iron,” Merry said.
As opposed to those days, one of the biggest questions these days is, “Who’s paying for this?”
In this case, Trulove said, the answer is insurance for either the trucking company or the driver, if that driver is an independent hauler.
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With “hands-on” off-limits as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the United States, Colorado and Pitkin County, emergency first-responders are having to tweak the traditional ways they go about doing their jobs.