Questions surround sulfuric acid spill along Highway 60 in Bartow

5:47 PM, Apr 24, 2012   |    comments
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Bartow, Florida -- An accident leading to an sulfuric acid spill shut down a major road in Polk County for several hours Tuesday, and the driver of the truck carrying those corrosive chemicals had to be airlifted to Tampa.

Hazmat workers, wearing protective suits, worked for hours neutralizing and then removing the acid, which had soaked the pavement and penetrated the soil along Highway 60 north of downtown Bartow.

Photo Gallery: Chemical spill shuts down Bartow highway

A thousand gallons of the material somehow spilled from a flat-bed operated by Davis Supply out of Ft. Myers with an office in Lake Wales.

Brad Ruhmann, a spokesman for Polk County Fire rescue says the acid, which was highly concentrated, is "very dangerous if you get it on your skin, also can be dangerous if it's inhaled. So it's not a very good thing to be around."

Investigators say just before 6:00 a.m. the driver of the truck had to make a sudden stop. His corrosive cargo shifted, and then spilled onto the busy highway at Rifle Range road.

Four out of the six "pods" of acid, each containing 250 gallons with a potent 93% concentration, should have been secured, say officials, who are still investigating what went wrong.

"For whatever reason, when he stopped, they continued and now we have sulfuric acid in the road and in the median, in the soil," said Ruhmann.

The driver, 37-year-old Eric Garland, was injured when he slipped and fell into the acid.

He was rushed to a nearby firehouse where he was decontaminated and airlifted to Tampa General Hospital with 2nd degree burns on his legs.

Meanwhile, traffic along the busy east-west corridor had to take a 10 mile detour. Several people had no idea where they were going once diverted from the beaten path.

Gerald Morgart, who lives nearby was told to turn around. "That's all it is, is a pain in the butt," he said.

Dave Halsey looked at the detour another way. "Aggravation, especially with what you pay for your gasoline these days," he said.

As for businesses affected by the spill, there's only one in the area. "Camping World" was supposed to be celebrating its grand re-opening on Tuesday. Instead, no customers meant no sales.

Melissa Farrior, a salesperson said it was a paycheck killer.

"Oh yeah, it's dead. We usually have hundreds of cars here throughout the past couple of days, so this is empty," she said.

The cause of the accident and how those containers of acid were able to shift loose is still under investigation.

The company's president, Jim Davis, said he still didn't have much information about the crash, but was told the driver was a worker from their Lake Wales office.

The chemicals, said Davis, are consistent with what you'd see used for pool chemicals. Davis was told the driver was going to be all right, and that the burns were "similar to what you'd see with a bad sunburn."

Earlier Story:

Bartow, Florida -- Hazardous materials crews were still on the scene of a major acid spill along Highway 60 in Polk County at midday Tuesday.

The driver of the truck that was hauling the acid received burns over 10 percent of his body, mostly on his feet and legs.

The closure is at Highway 60 at Rifle Range Road between downtown Bartow and Lake Wales. At noon, officials estimated it would be at least another hour on the eastbound side, as they try to clean up the 1,000 gallons of acid that spilled. However, the closure could last until late this afternoon or early Tuesday night for the westbound lanes.

The accident happened shortly before 6 a.m. when investigators say 37-year-old Eric Garland -- who was driving the truck for Davis Supplies Incorporated out of Ft. Myers -- was apparently forced to stop short at the intersection.

In the back of his truck he was hauling six pods, each containing 250 gallons of sulfuric acid with a 93 percent concentration. Those pods are supposed to be tied down, but apparently they either were not or malfunctioned, said a fire rescue official.

In either case, about a thousand gallons of the highly corrosive acid then leaked onto the road and into the median.

Garland apparently got out of his truck and slipped, falling into the acid.

Fortunately, a firehouse was within just a few hundred feet of the accident, and they were able to de-contaminate the victim quickly. Garland was then airlifted to Tampa General Hospital with second-degree burns on his legs and feet.

Brad Ruhmann with Polk County Fire Rescue says they are using sodium bi-carbonate and baking soda in large amounts to neutralize the acid, and will then safely dispose of the soil which was affected.

There does not appear to be any further environmental consequence.

Traffic from the east and west was being diverted to a 10-mile detour around the spill site.

At Dusty's Camper World, they were forced to shut down Tuesday since no traffic could come through the area.

"This was supposed to be our grand re-opening week," says one worker, who described the parking lot as "packed" on Monday.

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