82 traffic backed up to Carbondale while crews clean up lime spill
Thousands of motorists roasted in the hot summer sun on Highway 82 Monday after a lime spill near Glenwood Springs snarled traffic for more than four hours. Authorities said at one point traffic was backed up nearly 10 miles, all the way to Carbondale.
The spill happened at 9:09 a.m. when a Permanent Builders truck lost its load. The spill spread a thick coat of white powder, later found to be calcium hydroxide, all over the northbound lanes of Glen Avenue in front of Factory Surplus, China Town and the Frontier Lodge.
Calcium hydroxide, commonly known as hydrated lime, is corrosive and can cause burning to skin and eyes, but it is not considered a hazardous material. It’s used to make cement.
Emergency crews were concerned the substance would become airborne if vehicles were allowed to drive over it, possibly causing adverse health effects to drivers.
So traffic was diverted off Highway 82 between the Buffalo Valley restaurant and along County Road 154 to 27th Street.
“We were dispatched to a citizen report of a possible hazardous material spill,” Queen said. “Three bags of lime fell off a flatbed.”
Glenwood Springs police Lt. Lou Vallario said the truck was driven by Permanent Builders employee Phillip Dady, 25, of Rifle. He was cited for spilling a load in the roadway, a misdemeanor traffic offense that requires a court appearance.
“He was coming down 29th, he turned right, went up on a curb and lost the load,” Vallario said.
The incident is classified as an accident, he said, but money for damages or expenses can still be sought.
The spill was about 200 feet long by 50 feet wide and 3/4 of an inch deep in some spots, Queen said.
Once police and fire officials determined the origin of the spill, they contacted Permanent Builders. Company officials were very cooperative, police said, sending a crew of employees to help with the cleanup.
Once fire officials determined the spill consisted of hydrated lime, they decided to water it down as much as possible and send the diluted lime down the storm drain and into the Roaring Fork River.
On the pH scale, hydrated lime is very basic – 12.4 pH – so another concern was its effect on fish and other aquatic life in the river.
To solve this problem, Queen’s fire crew used a containment boom to pool the water before it dropped down the drain. They tested it, not letting any limey water enter the river until its pH level was below 9, close to neutral.
“A lot of it was silica mixed with the product,” Queen said.
Colorado Division of Wildlife district wildlife manager Justin Martens was on hand to observe the effort. He said water with a pH of 9 or below would be safe for aquatic wildlife.
“We just wanted to make sure the water going into the river was good,” Martens said.
To add to the clean-up crew’s concerns, thunder clouds were building above the containment effort. But no rain fell and firefighters were able to control the flow of water into the river.
In all, the containment and dilution effort lasted more than four hours.
Queen was thankful the situation wasn’t more serious, but warned that the incident could be a “dress rehearsal for a major disaster.”
“Given our limited means of egress, a truly nasty spill could be catastrophic,” Queen said. “The potential for a true hazardous material disaster is tremendous. Hopefully these will continue to be dress rehearsals and we’ll never get the big one.”
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