Truck crash spills sulfuric acid on Polk highway

By Rick Elmhorst, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 4:12 PM EDT

A flatbed truck carrying 1,000 gallons of sulfuric acid has spilled onto a Bartow highway, forcing the closure a busy stretch of highway Tuesday morning.

According to Polk County spokesman Brad Ruhman, for some reason the truck driver performed a hard stop just before 6 a.m., causing the truck to overturn, spilling several containers of acid onto State Road 60 near Rifle Range Road.

Officials said the driver was burned by the acid.  He sustained second-degree burns on his extremities, officials said.  He was airlifted to a local hospital.

Both State Road 60 and Rifle Range Road are closed in all directions near the spill site. A hazardous materials team was called to the scene.

Officials have not said how long the roadways would be closed.

The spill inconvenienced drivers and affected nearby businesses.

Camping World just down the road had no customers. It had to stay shut down on a day when it should have had a crowd for a grand reopening.

"And with the advertising we spent and the traffic we have seen over the last few days it's hard to estimate how much we have lost,” said Joe Shirey, Camping World.

At the nearby Rockin' W Ranch, workers loaded up 18 horses in trailers and moved them to other locations as a precaution.

"About three or four tailors full,” said Wyatt Wheeler. “And we are pulling hay and grain in the whole bit so if we can't get back here or shouldn't come back here we've got supplies to last us."

Wheeler believes his mom was affected by fumes.

"When she got out here it was really irritating her throat,” he said. “She started coughing, the whole bit."

Traffic Expert Chuck Henson is advising drivers to use 80 Foot Road to Cox Road to Alturas Road as an alternate to State Road 60. Rifle Range Road drivers are advised to use Bomber Road to US 17 to avoid the closure.

Acid spill concerns

The flatbed truck that crashed also was carrying salt pellets, which are used in water filtration.

When those pellets mix with sulfuric acid, it results in hydrogen chloride gas. According to Priority Health's Dr. Randy Shuck, the hazardous materials spilled in the crash can cause coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract.

Polk County officials have sent out a reverse 911 call to inform residents about the situation.

Although there are no immediate residences close to the crash scene, officials are telling anyone in the general area that there is a potential for fumes in the area and that they should shut windows and turn off air conditioners.