UPDATED: Area near Bitner Road deemed safe after spill of toxic quicklime
Residents living near Bitner Road in Kimball Junction were prevented from entering and exiting their neighborhoods Thursday evening after crews blocked access following the spill of 20,000 pounds of toxic quicklime.
Lt. Andrew Wright, with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said a dump truck was carrying the substance when it hit boulders at the roundabout on Bitner Ranch Road when trying to turn around, causing the quicklime to spill along Bitner Road for more than a mile. The driver continued down Bitner Road before eventually pulling over at the on-ramp to Interstate 80. The incident happened shortly before 5 p.m.
The driver, 55, of Riverton, told deputies he was following his GPS when he got lost while trying to get to Silver Creek. He was not cited. But, Wright said the case will be sent to the county attorney’s office for possible charges, including leaving the scene of an accident.
“This was a costly mistake that was 100 percent preventable,” he said.
Quicklime is a chemical compound commonly used in cement.
The road was closed between Bitner Ranch Road and S.R. 224 for several hours as crews began cleanup efforts. The efforts were delayed, however, as crews waited for environmentalists to arrive before proceeding, Wright said. People who live in neighborhoods branching off the road were unable to drive into or out of the area.
Dorrian Casto and Mike Giese, who live in Canyon Creek, said they first tried to go home at around 5 p.m. They work in Salt Lake City. They saw the area was closed so they went to grab a drink in Kimball Junction before parking their car near the underpass connecting Highland Drive and Bitner Road to wait out the situation.
“It is totally frustrating,” Casto said. “He (Giese) has to go home and pack because he is leaving for a trip early in the morning. If it was Friday, it may have been a little different, but people have places to be.”
Some residents sat in their vehicles for several hours waiting to access the neighborhoods. More than 30 cars were parked along Highland Drive at around 9 p.m. Others left their cars in Kimball Junction and walked to their homes. Authorities encouraged residents to avoid walking into the area but indicated it wasn’t prohibited. Officials said contact with the quicklime could cause skin and eye irritation.
Jed Cornella, a Black Hawk Station resident, realized he couldn’t get home at around 6:30 p.m. Like many others, he went into Kimball Junction to kill time.
“I’ve been waiting ever since,” he said. “I went and had some food and drink, but now I am ready to get home. I’m just trying to be patient. These guys that are cleaning it up didn’t do it. They are doing their best.”
Officials partially reopened Bitner Road around 10 p.m., allowing residents in Canyon Creek and Blackhawk Station to access their homes. The Park City Fire District indicated the cleaning efforts were initially focused on providing access to the Canyon Creek and Blackhawk Station neighborhoods.
While cleaning crews were released from the area at around 12:30 a.m., efforts to remove the substance from the road continued Friday morning.
Darren Nelson, a battalion chief with the Fire District, said the main concern was keeping the public safe. He said cleaning up hazmat spills is difficult because it’s always a different product. He added, “It could have been worse.”
“We were confident we had the equipment to manage and keep personnel safe to deal with it,” he said. “But, for us it was really just trying to control the scene. We were happy it worked out the way it did. These hazmat calls take a long time sometimes. It is hard to convey that to the general public. We were aware of how long it was taking and we wanted to get you back home to families and pets.”
Derek Siddoway, Summit County Health Department’s spokesperson, said the area has been deemed safe for residents. He said the main health concern Thursday evening was when the quicklime was in a powder form. But, once it started to mix with snow, the risk was minimized.
Siddoway encouraged residents who come into contact with the substance to simply rinse it off. However, once the product dries, it will turn into a powdery substance that can still cause irritation. He told pet owners to avoid walking their animals through the area if possible.
“It will get on vehicles and it will get on shoes. But, it doesn’t carry the same health concern that it did in its original state,” he said. “It is a bit of a nuisance and we recognize it is messy. But, we wouldn’t have opened the road or allowed access to it if we didn’t think it was safe to walk or drive through the area.”
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Park City Mountain Resort said it plans to open for the ski season as scheduled despite the area experiencing a spell of dry weather and warm daytime temperatures.