Tanker spills 5,000 gallons of toxic gas

Quick action by local authorities and help from law enforcement across the Western Slope helped contain a massive spill of a highly flammable, toxic chemical that traveled down Rifle’s main road after a tanker rolled Thursday morning.

About 5,000 gallons of condensate or “drip gas” spilled when a northbound tanker owned by TGP Transport of Mesquite, Texas, overturned at a curve in the road at the intersection of Colorado Highway 13 and Railroad Avenue.

The liquid ran down the gutters of Railroad Avenue into a storm drain, but officials said they were able to close the drains before the liquid entered nearby Rifle Creek and drained into the Colorado River. As a precaution, though, the Colorado State Patrol notified down-river communities who divert water out of the Colorado for drinking water.

Rifle officials used a reverse 911 call to inform residents in the nearby Deerfield Park subdivision to head indoors if the fumes became overpowering. The spill emitted a strong stench, and fire department officials tested the air for toxic levels.

Officials also worried that static electricity caused by strong winds Thursday could ignite the material. Condensate includes petroleum-based compounds.

The driver, whose name wasn’t released by authorities, was taken to a local hospital for minor injuries.

Businesses along Railroad Avenue between 16th Street and 24th Street were evacuated for several hours after the accident, which occurred just after 10 a.m. and within a stone’s throw of
Rifle Fire Protection District headquarters. Some of the material flowed into a storm drain in the building’s parking lot.

Rifle Public Works Department employees saw the spill heading down Railroad Avenue and turning east onto 16th Street. There, workers used heavy machinery to shovel dirt from the city’s BMX track onto the road, sopping up the spill and containing it within a half block of the creek.

“It was fortunate that this didn’t happen at 2 o’clock in the morning,” said a public works employee who didn’t want to give his name. “I think we did a pretty good job getting it stopped so fast. It’s some pretty toxic stuff; you can smell it.”

Officials said the tanker had an 8,500-gallon capacity, and it is believed the truck driver was headed to a facility south of Craig to dump the load.

Clifton Water District Assistant Manager Dave Reinertsen said the utility temporarily shut off its river intake to avoid the possibility of taking in any contaminated water. The company provides drinking water to 35,000 people in the Grand Valley.

Rifle Police Chief Daryl Meisner said a diesel tanker rolled at the same location in December 2007. Since then, the speed limit in the area has been reduced to 30 mph, but he has been told the highway has the state’s second highest number of trucks traveling with hazardous materials.

“It goes with the territory,” Meisner said. “I’m just glad it’s not burning.”

A hazardous-materials team from Grand Junction, the Grand Junction Fire Department, Burning Mountain Fire Department, Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Colorado State Patrol and Garfield County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene.

Crews worked into the night Thursday grounding and mopping up the spill and hauling away contaminated dirt.

Staff writer Mike Wiggins contributed to this report.


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