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Truck carrying hydrochloric acid flips on Highway 35

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Truck wreck

BLUE BAY — Three Draggin' Wagon wreckers, including the big mama of all wreckers, were the heroes of a Blue Bay truck accident that closed Montana Highway 35 for an hour on Thursday, April 23.

With chains connecting to the flipped vehicle, the big engines whined and one wrecker’s front wheels came off the ground as they pulled the Mergenthaler Transfer and Storage truck and trailer to its wheels.

The semi-truck, trailer and pup went off about half way between mile markers 11 and 12 at approximately 7 a.m. The truck was northbound and the driver slewed into a turnout on the east side of the road, laying the truck and the 40-foot trailer on its right sides. The pup remained standing, and the driver emerged unscathed.

The “mixed” load contained a 250-gallon container of hydrochloric acid.

“The biggest concern was the hydrochloric acid,” said Steve Stanley, director of the Lake County Office of Emergency Management.

As a precautionary measure, the Montana Department of Transportation dozed earthen dams at both ends of the wreck to avoid possible leakage entering a culvert north of the wreck site, according to Stanley.

The acid was believed to be contained in its plastic carboy and metal “cradle” so Mergenthaler sent another semi and a crew from Kalispell to unload the wrecked trailer and reload the cargo into the replacement truck. The mixed load included furniture, tires, plastic flowerpots and boxes of huckleberry candy. When workers got to the container of hydrochloric acid in the nose of the trailer, they found it trickling out.

Finley Point Fire Department firefighters Matt Ellermann and Brent Burland were on hand, wearing their self-contained breathing apparatus, and went in to check the leak, with Burland videoing the leak.  

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Emergency Manager Dale Nelson, Stanley and other officials waited for Art Villa, Mergenthaler’s senior vice president of safety and compliance, to arrive so a plan of action could be made.

The State Emergency Response Commission, a hazardous materials team, was summoned from Kalispell to neutralize the acid and do shovel tests of the soil.

Stanley gathered everyone and held a safety meeting. The plan was to right the trailer, stop the leak and deal with the acid on the ground, he said, asking anyone who saw something that concerned them to say something.

When the truck was on its wheels, the hazardous materials crew arrived and neutralized the ground and the truck, using a product that’s basically baking soda, Stanley said.

Stanley had nothing but praise for the Mergenthaler crew, MDOT, the Finley Point Fire Department and emergency workers from the tribes.

The wounded truck was towed to Mergenthaler’s shop for decontamination.

The wreck remains under investigation by the Montana Highway Patrol. 

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