Tanker hauling acid overturns on I-695 Injured driver cited

residents evacuated

April 21, 1996|By Peter Hermann and Marcia Myers | Peter Hermann and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A tanker truck containing sulfuric acid overturned on a ramp of Interstate 695 early yesterday morning, forcing the evacuation of about 1,000 people from the Lynnbrook neighborhood of Anne Arundel County.

The truck driver was hospitalized in serious condition, but no other injuries were reported. Hazardous materials workers quickly contained the spill, which involved about 20 gallons of the acid diluted with water, according to police.

Because the mishap occurred at 7: 30 a.m., the disruption to Beltway traffic was minimal.

The same could not be said for the schedules of Lynnbrook neighbors, who were not allowed to return home until 6 last night.

"I got a truckload of mulch sitting in a truck parked in the lot," said Lee Bradshaw, who lives in the middle of the evacuated area, at midafternoon. "I was going to work in my yard. When we were told to leave, I went out shopping and figured that by the time I got back, it would be all over. I feel like a refugee."

Mr. Bradshaw was among 40 or so residents who sought shelter at North County High School, which was converted into a "disaster center" by the American Red Cross.

By about 4: 30 p.m., only a couple of dozen residents were milling about inside and outside the cafeteria -- many with dogs and cats in tow -- most trying to make the best of a lost Saturday.

"We had invited guests over," said Kishar Gheewala, as he sat on a plastic chair and dined on a cheese sandwich and Coke provided by the Red Cross.

"I called and told them not to come over, that we are out of our houses. Now, we are contemplating playing some golf, if my wife agrees. I can't let her sit in the shelter." His wife, Pratibha, was a bit more perturbed.

"I work Monday through Friday. Saturday is the day I would like to stay in the house and do laundry and clean and rest."

Evacuation was mandatory because the spill involved sulfuric acid, said Cpl. Laura Lu Herman, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Police.

Sulfuric acid can be poisonous if inhaled and can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with the skin or eyes.

Marlin Harris, the truck driver, had just left Bethlehem Steel Corp. and was en route to Blue Plains, a collection and disposal site in the Washington area. The truck, carrying 3,500 gallons of acid, overturned on the ramp connecting the I-695 inner loop to southbound Interstate 97.

About 20 gallons of acid leaked from an overflow valve of the tanker, all of it contained on a sandy embankment. The liquid, primarily a water-based solution used for "pickling" or hardening steel, did not come in contact with the driver or any of the rescue workers, said Anne Arundel Battalion Chief Gary Sheckells.

Mr. Harris was trapped inside the truck cab about 3 1/2 hours before rescue workers freed him. He was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and treated for head, chest and leg injuries. He was reported in serious condition last night.

Maryland State Police charged Mr. Harris, 28, of Bowie, with failure to reduce speed on a curve.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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