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Hwy. 20E Reopens After Tanker Truck Crash, Spill


Highway 20E east of Brothers was fully open again late Friday, two days after a tanker truck carrying about 46,000 pounds of liquid fertilizer crashed, overturned and began to leak its cargo Wednesday night, shutting the highway for about two hours, Oregon State Police reported.

The truck driver was unhurt, but was cited by OSP after an investigation, troopers said.

Clean-up crews spent Thursday pumping the material out of the tanker and then recovering the tanker and tractor, said ODOT’s Peter Murphy, adding that the work likely would continue until Friday afternoon. And TripCheck indicated it was clear of the one-lane restriction Friday night.

According to Trooper Zach Mickle, shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday, the commercial truck pulling a tanker trailer loaded with liquid fertilizer driven by Glen N. Mitchell, 54, of Bastrop, Louisiana, was eastbound on Highway 20E near milepost 50 (about eight miles east of Brothers, 50 miles east of Bend) when it drifted onto the gravel shoulder.

Mitchell was unable to control the truck and trailer, which eventually rolled at least once before coming to rest along the eastbound shoulder.

Emergency responders from OSP, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Bend Fire Department, ODOT and SMAF Environmental hazardous materials company in Prineville responded to the scene.

Officials confirmed a small amount of liquid fertilizer leaked from the damaged trailer.

Mitchell was cited by OSP for failure to maintain a lane of travel. Fire officials said he was was working for Sherman Brothers, a trucking firm based in Harrisburg, Ore.

Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe said crews arrived to find a leak ?from a small puncture in the tank.?

Firefighters notified the Oregon Emergency Response System, Chemtrec, a nationwide chemical spill info service, funded by chemical manufacturers, and the Oregon HazMat Response Team in Salem, which serves the area.

?We found that it is a fertilizer resin material with no hazardous properties, and no environmental threats, unless it enters a waterway,? Howe said in a news release.

The substance does contain trace amounts of ammonia, which was released in the spill, Howe said ? and that caused ?an acrid ammonia odor ? but this, too, was not harmful or hazardous.?

After a complete two-hour highway closure, one lane was open for traffic when it was determined safe for motorists to travel through the area, with traffic flagged through in alternating directions.

Troopers said the vehicles remained at the scene overnight and were removed Thursday.

Howe said the scene was handed over to SMAF Environmental out of Prineville after they arrived around 10:30 p.m.

For a time, a more than 60-mile stretch of Highway 20E east of Brothers was shut as authorities worked to determine the nature of the chemical with the trucking firm and Chemtrec, a national firm that tracks hazardous materials.

They at first were told a blue fluid seen coming from the 40-foot-long tanker could have been an alkaline-based industrial cleaner or “surfactant,” which can in some circumstances cause upper respiratory burns or superficial skin burns..

The tanker reportedly had no warning placard on it, but the driver provided a manifest.

With no detour available, ODOT said before 10 p.m. it expected a “multi-hour closure” and advised motorists to “adjust travel plans.”

OSP said ODOT was manning roadblocks near mileposts 43 on the east and 105 to the west, until early Thursday, when one lane reopened, with traffic let through in alternating directions. It was fully open again Thursday night, according to TripCheck, but back to one lane Friday morning, then fully open late Friday.

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