Effects of chemical spill still uncertain
A chemical spill that closed a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80 and snarled traffic for hours on Tuesday probably wont have any long-term effects on humans or the environment, according to environmental officials.A FedEx truck driver, who was taking his chains off in the eastbound shoulder near the Agriculture Station, reported he saw and smelled a chemical spilling from his trailer just after 9 a.m. Of the 10,000 pounds of material the truck was carrying, a 350-gallon container of the chemical solvent heptane spilled. The driver was unsure how long the chemical had been spilling before he stopped, said Janet Mann, Nevada County environmental health inspector.Most of the chemical flowed into a large snow berm on the side of the road, making it easy for crews to dig up and dispose of the waste. However, some of the heptane spilled into a storm drain, which leads to Donner Creek, a tributary of the Truckee River, Mann saidYou could smell [the heptane] at the other end of the drain, she said.The crews took water samples near the creek, and it could take weeks to get the results. The creek was moving fast, so Mann said she thinks the heptane is fairly diluted.We dont think there was any extensive environmental impact, but we dont know for sure, yet, she said.If heptane leaked into the soil around Donner Creek, crews will have to wait until later in the spring to dig up any residual chemicals. Im grateful that no people or wildlife were harmed with this, said Lisa Wallace, Truckee River Watershed Council executive director. We got lucky this time.Wallace said she hopes the Department of Fish and Game will get the resources necessary to continue to monitor the impacts of the spill to Donner Creek and the wildlife that live in and around the creek.H20 Environmental, a hazardous waste cleanup company that contracts with CalTrans, cleaned up the spill at the scene until Tuesday night and steam-cleaned the drainage pipe where it exits into Donner Creek on Wednesday morning.No one was injured in the incident, and several chain installers and a CHP officer reported eye irritation from the chemical.Initial reports to dispatchers said the driver was unconscious, but the driver walked away from the scene unscathed, said Kirk Bromell, CHP information officer.Heptane is a colorless, flammable liquid with a mild, gasoline-like odor that is harmful if inhaled, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. The substance was earlier identified as isopropanol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, which was also in a container on the truck.Businesses within a 1,000-foot radius of the spill were notified to stay inside during the incident. Students and staff at Tahoe Truckee High School and Truckee Elementary School, which are next to I-80 where the spill is occurring, were told to remain indoors.