Shelter-in-place orders reinstated for Tucson after dangerous hazmat spill

An existing shelter-in-place order in Tucson, Arizona was extended Wednesday morning due to the widespread risk to public health caused by hazardous materials released from a vehicle rollover on Tuesday.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, “Unified Command repositioned the shelter for a one-mile radius around the incident. While crews were attempting to remove the load from the commercial vehicle, the gassing occurred. I-10 is closed in both directions between Kolb and Rita streets in Tucson.”

Residents in the area were warned by Unified Command to expect “extensive closures” at any time and to seek alternative routes of travel if necessary. For anyone near the spill, they were also recommended to turn off all heaters and air conditioning systems that could potentially bring contaminated air into their homes.

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The situation so far

The situation began Tuesday when an accident involving a commercial tanker truck and liquid nitric acid spilled onto I-10 near Tucson, forcing authorities and emergency personnel to evacuate the area and close the highway until the situation was under control.

As a result of the hazmat leak, a shelter-in-place order was announced Tuesday evening for residents within a half-mile radius of the accident after it was initially thought the cleanup would take several hours.

Sadly, it is reported that the driver of the commercial vehicle has died. The exact cause of death – whether it was due to an accident or exposure to hazardous substances – has not yet been determined.

Nitric acid, which the car was carrying at the time of the accident, is commonly used to make ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertilizer, as well as for other industrial purposes. It can cause eye and skin irritation if one comes in direct contact with it. Severe exposure can lead to worse outcomes such as pneumonitis, bronchitis and other serious symptoms.

According to USA Today, “overnight weather conditions delayed hazardous material recovery and mitigation” and “crews removed tractor-trailer material, using dirt to mitigate further gassing.”

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Second major spill this month

This is the second major situation this month where public safety was at risk due to exposure to toxic and hazardous materials.

On February 3, a train transporting toxic chemicals derailed in Ohio. A Norfolk Southern train derailed and burst into flames before a toxic cloud began moving towards the rural town of East Palestine, forcing residents to evacuate. Residents were not able to return home until emergency workers were able to incinerate the hazardous materials from the scene about five days later.

However, security concerns have not gone away. According to Reuters, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that the contamination caused by the derailment was not an immediate concern for the nearly five million citizens who rely on the stream, which was later found to contain contaminants for drinking water.

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