Tanker leaking fumes closes Beltway lanes Westbound lanes shut, police sickened as noxious chemical leak is fixed.

July 26, 1991|By Richard Irwin | Richard Irwin,Evening Sun Staff

Two state troopers were overcome by fumes last night after stopping a chemical tanker on the Beltway. The tanker was leaking hazardous material used to make paints and plastics.

One trooper became sick after stopping the tanker between Greenspring and Park Heights avenues after he smelled a strong odor and the second when he arrived on the scene as a backup unit. Both troopers were treated at Sinai Hospital and released.

During the next five hours, from 10:30 p.m. yesterday to 3:30 a.m. today, police first shut down two westbound lanes and then all three as repairs were made to fix a defective escape valve seal atop the tanker.

Cpl. William Johnson, of the Security barracks, said no residents of the few homes in the area were evacuated and that the leaking chemical evaporated quickly.

Johnson said the incident began about 10:20 p.m. when Sgt. Bill Tower, assigned to the crime lab, was southbound on Interstate 83 and smelled what he later described as a "very heavy odor" as he was about to enter the westbound Beltway.

Johnson said Tower spotted a tanker truck in front of him on the Beltway and pulled the vehicle over onto the right hand shoulder between Greenspring and Park Heights.

Moments after the truck stopped and while Tower was investigating the source of the odor, he became sickened by the fumes.

About the same time, Trooper Mark Black, of the Security barracks, arrived as a backup unit and also became nauseated by the odor.

Shortly after several pieces of Baltimore County fire equipment arrived, Tower and Black were taken to Sinai Hospital for treatment.

Johnson said the tanker truck was carrying 40,000 pounds of ethyl acrylate, a highly flammable and extremely combustible chemical that can cause difficulty in breathing if inhaled. The chemical has a flash point -- the temperature at which it can ignite -- of 60 degrees, he said.

Johnson said at least one vent seal on top of the tanker was leaking, sending noxious fumes into the air in the immediate area of the tanker.

The tanker driver, Ronnie Harris, 36, of Gray Court, S.C., was not affected by the fumes. Harris told police that some fumes coming from the escape valves was normal, since pressure inside the tanker builds up and must be vented.

However, an investigation of the valves by members of the county fire department's hazardous-materials unit showed that a seal around at least one valve was defective.

Johnson said the rig is owned by Parachem Southern in Simpsonville, S.C. Harris had picked up the tanker containing the chemical in Philadelphia and was heading back to his company when he was stopped by Tower, Johnson said.

While the leak was being repaired, westbound Beltway traffic was detoured south onto Greenspring Avenue to Old Court Road, then west to Park Heights Avenue and back onto the Beltway.

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