A semi truck carrying thousands of gallons of anhydrous ammonia crashed Friday, killing at least five people and evacuating parts of an Illinois neighborhood.
According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the truck was carrying about 7,500 gallons of toxic material at the time of the wreck in Effingham County. Initial estimates put more than half of that — about 4,000 gallons — out, the agency said.
According to the state EPA, the spill has been “partially contained” and about 500 people have been evacuated from the area. In addition to death, there are many injuries.
Parts of Teutopolis, a village in south-central Illinois, were evacuated Friday night “due to an ammonia leak” after a crash on U.S. Highway 40 about a half-mile east of Teutopolis, Illinois State Police said.
Emergency crews were still on scene to contain the spill Saturday afternoon, according to the state’s EPA.
Just before 5 p.m., a separate crash occurred on Interstate 70 east of Effingham, causing traffic to be diverted to US Highway 40.
At around 9:25pm local time, authorities were notified of a “multiple vehicle accident, including a semi truck leaking anhydrous ammonia” on the highway.
Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns described the scene as large and complex.
At least five people were airlifted to local hospitals, Teutopolis Fire Chief Tim McMahon said.
According to McMahon, crews worked overnight to get part of the wreckage off the semi-truck — which slowed down the leak, but didn’t stop it completely.
Police said people within a 1-mile radius of the crash, including areas northeast of Teutopolis, were later evacuated.
The evacuation order continued early Saturday morning and shelters were set up for the victims.
Kuhns told reporters Saturday morning that there was no timeline for when residents would be able to return home.
Anhydrous ammonia is “essentially pure (greater than 99 percent) ammonia,” according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “‘Waterless’ is a Greek word meaning ‘without water;’ Hence, anhydrous ammonia in anhydrous ammonia.
Ammonia used in homes is a dilute aqueous solution containing 5 to 10 percent ammonia, according to OSHA.
Ammonia in high concentrations can irritate and burn the skin, mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Very high doses can damage the lungs or cause death.
Symptoms of anhydrous ammonia exposure include difficulty breathing; eye, nose or throat irritation; and burns or blisters.
Anhydrous ammonia can enter the airways and attach itself to mucous and moist surfaces, Kuhns said. “It caused very dangerous air conditions,” he said of the spill.
Effingham County has an estimated population of about 34,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and is located approximately two hours south of Springfield, the capital of Illinois.