Burns Harbor firefighters successfully contained a release of 1,000 gallons
of sulfuric acid on Tuesday in the parking lot of the Pilot Travel Center at
243 U.S. Highway 20.
The BHFD was dispatched to the scene at 1:30 p.m., Fire Chief Bill Arney
told the Chesterton Tribune today, after a trucker hauling 10
500-gallon containers of sulfuric acid reported a leak.
The trucker advised that he’d been on the road, was forced to brake hard,
and felt his load shift. He then pulled into the Pilot center to check for
any damage to the containers and immediately noticed the acid pouring from
the rear of his box truck. “The guy said it looked like a waterfall,” Arney
The acid itself was packaged in square plastic “totes” reinforced by a metal
framework and intended to be not only stackable but more or less
unbreachable. “Ideally, they’re not supposed to puncture,” Arney noted.
Two of them did, however, and a stream of acid was the result, leading from
the truck to the back of the Pilot parking lot.
Firefighter used 42 50-pound bags of oil dry—more than a ton of it—as well
as “haz-mat booms,” which Arney described as “big absorbent socks,” to
contain the acid before it got into a pair of detention ponds at the rear of
Sulfuric acid is a lung irritant, though, and firefighters were forced to
wear masks and air tanks for respiratory protection, Arney said. As a
precaution, the Pilot itself was evacuated until the BHFD had monitored the
air quality in the business and given the all-clear. Employees were then
allowed back inside.
For a time too U.S. 20 in front of Pilot was closed to traffic.
Also responding to the scene were a hazardous-materials team from the Porter
County Environmental Department and an inspector from the U.S. Environmental
Arney did say that, as a corrosive, the acid caused the asphalt in the
parking lot to soften and bubble, until a private contractor retained by the
trucking company—Gully Trucking Inc. of Quincy, Ill.—had applied a chemical
to neutralize the acid. Under Burns Harbor Town Code, the trucking company
is responsible for the cost of the cleanup, Arney added.
The BHFD officially cleared the scene around 3:30 p.m. but personnel were on
site until 10:30 p.m.
The Porter Fire Department remained on standby for the BHFD at its own
station, PFD Chief Lewis Craig said.