The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

June 17, 2014

Danger contained

OTTUMWA — A hazardous fluid spill on the roundabout connecting Highways 63 and 34 in Ottumwa was quickly contained.

Ottumwa Fire Chief Tony Miller said a tanker truck with a full 7,800-gallon load of methanol overturned on the circular road connector around 7 a.m. Tuesday. The tank was punctured by the crash and began leaking the toxic, flammable liquid.

The Ottumwa Fire Department Haz-Mat team sprayed foam to keep the vapors down while work crews piled sand to trap the alcohol product.

"Public Works did a great job for us," Miller said. "They built a dike to keep the methanol from [flowing away from the scene] and entering the [environment]."

Methanol is a toxic, flammable industrial liquid used in certain varnishes, in anti-freeze and as a fuel for some super-high performance vehicles, like dragsters. The methanol was shipped from Cargill in Eddyville.

Traffic at the roundabout was detoured all morning as Haz-Mat worked. The roundabout was opened again after the lunch rush.

"We had to drill through the tank," the chief said. The highly volatile fluid had to be pumped into a new tanker truck. "Because of the way the [rolled] truck was laying, we couldn't get [the methanol] out any other way. We've also grounded it [against electrical sparks]."

He said he was proud of his crew and the other agencies that helped the work move so quickly and safely.

"This isn't our first rodeo," he said of the Haz-Mat operation. "We've had a few of these."

In fact, three truck rollovers have required firefighters at that same spot. Others, however, were not quite as dangerous as a full tanker of methanol, the fire chief acknowledged.

The county emergency management coordinator was there, as were Ottumwa Police Department and Wapello County Sheriff Office personnel. Iowa DOT and Iowa State Patrol were on their way to assist, Miller said.

"And we have Wapello County [rural fire department] here in case things go south," Miller said Tuesday morning. "It's been a collaborative effort by many agencies."

— You can follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter @couriermark.

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