Chemical spill cleanup continues on Rabbit Ears Pass
Steamboat Springs — It could take three weeks for a crew to excavate the area where 42,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals were spilled after a tanker truck rolled over Friday on Rabbit Ears Pass.
The trucking company that was hauling the chemicals has hired Custom Environmental Services to clean up the spill. On Tuesday, several large pieces of construction equipment were working in the area. Standing water was being pumped into a large tank along the side of U.S. Highway 40 near mile marker 142. Contaminated dirt was being moved to a nearby pull-off. Remnants of the tanker truck were scattered throughout the area.
Between 5,000 and 5,500 gallons of triazine was spilled. Routt County Environmental Health on Tuesday issued a news release saying triazine and methanol are used in oil and gas operations as part of the fracking process to help find and neutralize hydrogen sulfides.
The chemicals spilled into a gully downhill from the runaway truck ramp. According to the Colorado State Patrol, the tanker was sliced open when it collided with a concrete barrier wall. The gully is located on the uphill side of the road, but it was suspected that there was a culvert in the area that drained water onto the other side of U.S. 40 down a steep slope.
“At this time, after consideration of the chemicals involved and environmental conditions, it appears unlikely for harmful quantities of the released material to reach the Yampa River,” Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf wrote in the news release. “However, work continues to assess the situation and clean up this material and any contamination that has occurred to minimize impacts to wildlife and the environment.”
According to Zopf, within hours of the spill, government agencies and local water providers were notified of the spill. These included the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and water system operators at Lake Catamount, the Timbers, Fox Estates, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District and the city of Steamboat Springs.
RCADIS US has been retained to manage and provide soil and water testing to determine the extent of the release. Initial test results may be available later this week.
CSP Sgt. Scott Elliott said Tuesday that the trucking company and its insurance carrier are responsible for paying for the cleanup.
Following the crash, the driver of the tanker truck, Noland Hebert, 59, of Louisiana, was flown to a Front Range hospital with injuries that were not thought to be life threatening.
Elliott said the Patrol has not yet been able to interview Hebert, and the cause of the crash is still under investigation. The tanker truck was inspected Tuesday morning.
“There were no mechanical defects on the truck or the brake system that would have led to the crash,” Elliott said.
The crash closed U.S. 40 for more than seven hours. The speed limit in the construction zone is 40 mph.
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