Accident causes evacuations in Lehigh Valley

March 21, 2009 7:00:40 PM PDT
A tractor-trailer carrying a dangerous acid overturned on a highway Saturday, prompting authorities to order thousands of residents to leave the area for almost nine hours. The tanker, carrying 33,000 pounds of corrosive hydrofluoric acid, a component for household detergents, flipped on a sloping curve in the road at about 3 a.m. on the edge of Wind Gap, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia, and began leaking slowly.

Hydrofluoric acid in low doses can irritate the eyes, nose and respiratory tract, and in higher doses it can cause severe burns, chronic lung disease or even death, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

At 7 a.m., officials ordered an evacuation of 944 households. They said about 5,000 people were in the affected area.

Northampton County spokesman John Conklin said the truck driver was treated at a hospital and was released. One of about 200 people at an evacuation center at a local high school was taken to a hospital for a condition unrelated to the hazardous-materials incident.

Emergency crews reported liquid dripping from the tanker's valves or piping, forcing them to don full-protection suits to stop the drip. The tanker truck was righted at about 3 p.m., and the evacuation order was lifted soon after, although the road, Route 33, remained closed in both directions.

Conklin said animals in the affected area, including horses from several farms, were relocated.

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