Deer blamed for crash that prompted evacuation

March 22, 2009 1:29:11 PM PDT
The driver of a tractor-trailer carrying a hazardous chemical told authorities that he swerved to avoid a deer before his rig overturned, prompting a nine-hour evacuation of about 5,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania. State police in Northampton County said two people were in the Honeywell truck carrying 33,000 pounds of corrosive hydrofluoric acid, a component for household detergents, from Ontario to Philadelphia.

The truck was on a downslope and a moderate curve on Route 33 when Raymond LeBlanc, 54, of Harrow, Ontario, swerved left to avoid a deer and the truck overturned at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. He was treated for injuries at a hospital and released. His sleeping co-driver, Joseph Dault, 51, also of Ontario, was uninjured.

None of the material in the self-contained tank spilled, but a small amount dripped from a vent valve and dispersed in the air "like a puff of smoke," Cpl. Robert Mahady said Sunday.

"There was no actual spill; it was a leak within the valve, and it never made it to the ground," he said.

Samples from the drip were measured at no higher than 2 parts per million, "and a person can actually work unprotected in 3 ppm," Mahady said.

As a precaution, officials ordered an evacuation of 944 households, amounting to about 5,000 people in the affected area. An evacuation center set up in a nearby high school hosted about 200 people, officials said. The evacuation was lifted after about nine hours, and the road was later reopened.

The truck was eventually loaded onto a flatbed and hauled to Philadelphia to allow offloading of the cargo, he said.

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.

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