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Chemical leak closes Toms Brook exit

By Ryan Cornell

Authorities closed Exit 291 off Interstate 81 from about 10 p.m. Monday to 4:30 a.m. Tuesday when the driver of a tractor trailer discovered hazardous fluid leaking from his vehicle.

State Police Sgt. F.L. Tyler said the disabled tractor trailer was parked on the shoulder of the southbound exit, which connects Toms Brook to I-81.

"The driver had informed us that the load had shifted, leaking fluid from the cargo area of the vehicle," Tyler said. "He was loaded with corrosive material."

Chief Gary Yew, of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, said the liquid, identified as zirconium acetate, filled 12 containers in the trailer and totaled about 45,000 pounds.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services' household products database, zirconium acetate is a chemical often used for waterproofing leather and fabrics.

"It's an acid," Yew said. "It can cause some environmental damage and health issues if it's inhaled or by skin contact."

Tyler said about 150 gallons of the liquid had leaked out of one of the 350-gallon square plastic containers.

Because the vehicle was facing downhill, Yew said that most of the liquid was "pooled up" in front of the trailer.

He said some of it leaked out of the trailer onto the asphalt, but teams were able to neutralize it using soda ash and dispose of it properly.

Units evacuated a 30-meter area around the leak, though he said the evacuation did not affect the Wilco Travel Plaza or Love's Travel Stop located near the exit.

A regional hazardous materials response team from Harrisonburg entered the trailer, patched the leak and neutralized the chemicals using soda ash. A private hazardous material cleanup company, W.E.L. Inc., completed the rest of the cleanup process.

Yew said units were cleared from the scene and the exit was reopened at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

He said there were no injuries resulting from the leak and that the area poses no health risks.

Units that assisted at the scene include the Virginia State Police, Toms Brook Fire Department, Strasburg Fire Department, Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Department of Fire and Rescue, Virginia Department of Transportation, a regional hazardous materials officer from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, DBi Services Corp., the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office and W.E.L. Inc.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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