Some clean-up jobs are tougher than others. When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig platform exploded and sank, leaking untold millions of gallons of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico over almost three months this summer before being capped and closed, the world saw what can happen when certain technologies get ahead of other technologies. We had learned how to drill for oil at great depths, but apparently had made very little progress in our ability to respond to a crisis in that environment.
A much more common clean-up job happens on our roadways every day when, for one reason or another, a train or truck accident necessitates the clean-up of a spill or the draining or siphoning-off of some of its cargo or fuel. Usually, it’s pretty straightforward, though the clean-up procedure depends on what’s being carried or what’s been spilled.
Recently, in southeast Texas, the clean-up crew had to face an unusually tough situation. On a Sunday morning in Jefferson County, Texas, on Interstate 10, a pickup truck collided with a tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons of isobutane. Isobutane is flammable and, in confined spaces, can kill if inhaled in enough quantity. The tanker truck overturned and its driver suffered minor injuries to his legs. Both the driver and passenger in the pickup truck were unharmed.
But because of the truck’s cargo, the interstate was closed in both directions until Wednesday while the hazardous material crew worked to remove the dangerous liquid. A subdivision was evacuated and a Red Cross shelter set up, but as of Monday people were allowed to return to their homes.
The crew had never before performed the necessary procedure to empty the truck. They had to inject the truck’s tank with hot nitrogen in order to turn the isobutane liquid into a gas. They were then able to flare off the gas.
It was a long process, and rain further complicated their efforts. The road remained closed until Wednesday, when it was finally safe to have the truck towed from the scene. But unlike the Deepwater Horizon debacle, no one here was seriously hurt, and the environment was not seriously affected.