Monday, February 20, 2006

A tractor-trailer carrying thousands of gallons of hazardous material overturned yesterday morning on the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge, creating heavy traffic backups.

The accident occurred before the Carderock exit on the Outer Loop of Interstate 495 at about 6:15 a.m. For several hours, only a shoulder of the interstate was open to traffic.

“Fortunately, it was not a normal rush hour because of the holiday,” said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department. “The state highway department did a good job coordinating traffic.”

The tractor-trailer was carrying thousands of gallons of canned transmission fluid and motor oil, some of which began leaking after the truck overturned. The truck was carrying the petroleum products from Baltimore to Ashland, Va.

Troopers from the Maryland State Police barrack in Rockville and units from the Montgomery County fire department were dispatched to the crash site at 6:24 a.m.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and Montgomery County hazardous-material teams contained the spill with sand and other absorbents.

“It was not major leakage, but there were environmental issues we were worried about,” Mr. Piringer said.

The driver of the truck, James Smith of Glen Burnie, Md., was taken to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where he was treated for minor injuries. He needed only a checkup at the hospital, Mr. Piringer said.

An initial state police report said the truck, owned by Superior Transfer Inc., swerved to avoid a collision with a vehicle, causing the load to shift. As a result, the tractor-trailer overturned onto its driver’s side, authorities said.

The tractor-trailer was heavily damaged in the crash, authorities said.

“[Mr. Smith] was lucky he did not receive more serious injuries,” Mr. Piringer said.

After the fuel tanks were drained and most of the petroleum products loaded onto another truck, the tractor-trailer was towed to the side of the road at about 9:30 a.m. Although traffic lanes were reopened, backups remained well into the afternoon.

The tractor-trailer remained on the side of the road all day.

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