Highway 12 was closed between Interstate 5 and Rio Vista for most of Thursday after about 100 gallons of toxic hydrochloric acid spilled when a bigrig trailer rolled over.
The driver and one of the first firefighters on scene were both taken to Lodi Memorial Hospital for precautionary measures, because they possibly inhaled hydrochloric acid, said California Highway Patrol Officer Angel Arceo. No other injuries were reported.
The 10:25 a.m. incident closed the highway until it reopened at 11 p.m., according to the CHP.
The truck was hauling two trailers when a tire blew out east of the Mokelumne River Bridge, Arceo said.
The driver pulled over on the narrow shoulder, set out warning signals and called a company dispatcher, according to his Pittsburg employer, Hasa Inc.
Two-lane Highway 12 is known for its narrow shoulders, which leave little room for leeway if drivers crash, veer slightly or need to stop due to an emergency. In most places, it has steep embankments.
The driver's dispatcher told him to continue driving with the damaged tire until he got to a better place to pull over, said Lisa Johnson, vice president at Hasa Inc. The driver was picking up his signals when the rear trailer slipped down the embankment and rolled over, Johnson said. Due to the design of the connector between the trailers, the other trailer and the cab remained upright.
Highway 12 was soon shut down for miles between Interstate 5 and Highway 160, causing motorists to have to detour south to Interstate 205.
A San Joaquin County-led hazardous materials team was called in.
The truck was carrying pool-cleaning chemicals headed to a Sacramento distribution center. Both trailers contained chlorine and hydrochloric acid, which is used to adjust pH levels in swimming pools, Johnson said. The chemicals were in plastic one-gallon containers, which were placed on pallets and wrapped in plastic.
All told, about 100 gallons of chemicals spilled, said Woodbridge Fire Capt. Steve Butler.
A number of Woodbridge Fire units were called to the scene, with Lodi Fire helping staff a station. Additional crews from other fire agencies were called to help with the hazardous materials.
County investigators, overseen by San Joaquin County Environmental Health, evaluated the scene and determined the extent of cleanup needed, said Jamie De La Rosa, duty officer at the county's Office of Emergency Services.
The actual cleanup, requiring workers to wear full protective suits, was done by a company hired by Hasa Inc., De La Rosa said. They had to work by hand to remove broken containers and contaminated soil, while avoiding further leaks and the risk of chemicals mixing more.
"It's all done by hand, and that's why it's going to be a long night for folks trying to get home on Highway 12," De La Rosa said.
The hospitalized firefighter was in good condition by Thursday afternoon and was expected to be released soon, Butler said.
Hasa Inc. officials declined to give specific information about the driver, though Johnson said, "He's fully trained and he's been with us for some time."
To add to matters, less than an hour earlier two other big rigs had been involved in crashes further west into Sacramento County. No major injuries were reported.