Dangerous chemical spill closes I-80

A tanker crash early Wednesday morning caused road closures on I-80. The tanker carried ammonium bisulfite, which is hazardous if inhaled. According to Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper and Public Information Officer Jim Stewart, 51,000 gallons of the chemical spilled onto the roadway.

For unknown reasons, the tanker crashed near mile marker 323, about 20 miles east of Elko. The truck rolled into the median and entered the eastbound lane. Law enforcement closed both lanes of the interstate due to the hazardous material. There was no word on the condition of the tanker driver.

“The winds are calm, the temperature is cold, and there’s no structures or residences in that area. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s not really a public safety concern; we’re just keeping the highway blocked,” Stewart said at the time of the closure, “Don’t get close to that inhalation hazard until we get it cleaned up.”

Stewart said the agency was concerned about keeping the public as far from the spill as possible, as the effects of inhaling the chemical are not immediate. “You can go to the scene, but you won’t know that you’re affected until later,” Stewart said, “We don’t want that to happen.”

NHP rerouted traffic through Secret Pass on Route 229 and diverted to US-93, where travelers could head either to Las Vegas or Wells en route to Salt Lake City. The alternate route between Elko and Wells added up to an extra hour of travel time between those areas.

Elko Fire Department and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) were on-scene soon after the crash. A HAZMAT team arrived and began cleanup in the afternoon. NDOT delivered portable lights to the site, enabling the team work after sunset.

“I don’t have an exact time [that the interstate will be opened],” Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. “51,000 gallons is a lot of HAZMAT to get cleaned up.”

The westbound lane reopened late Wednesday evening.