Overturned tanker closes part of I-26

Summerville firefighters Battalion Chief Anthony Mire abd Capt. Billy Penn and Moran Environmental services operations manager Frank Longello (center) approach an overturned tanker truck at the U.S. Highway 15 exit from Interstate 26 eastbound on Wednesda

ROSINVILLE — Trucker Tommy Johnson was taking a break Wednesday morning at the Horizon gas station on U.S. Highway 15 near Interstate 26 when he heard an eerie noise.

Johnson was sitting in his truck with the windows down at 10:36 a.m. and was probably no more than 150 yards from the interstate. He didn't know what he heard, but one thought went through his mind: "That doesn't sound good."

He switched on his CB radio and heard the chatter of other truckers on the interstate describing a tanker truck that had rolled over on the 172B exit ramp off I-26 eastbound.

Eric C. Smith, 38, of Michigan got out of the cab of the overturned truck with a few cuts, but authorities' concern grew with reports that he was hauling 45,000 pounds of a potentially toxic liquid and it was leaking from the top of the tank.

Emergency crews began massing on the U.S. 15 overpass. About four hours later, a three-man hazardous materials team wearing protective gear got a close look at the leak and determined it was about the size of a pencil, said Thom Berry, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control media relations director. They weren't able to close off the leak. It was unknown how much liquid leaked, but Berry described it as a small spill.

The trucking company, Quality Carriers of Tampa, Fla., contracted with a Charleston business to clean up the spill, which would include removal of any contaminated soil, Berry said.

The hazardous material operation shut down all four lanes of I-26 until about 4 p.m. Eastbound traffic was diverted at I-95, and westbound traffic exited at S.C. Highway 453, said Highway Patrol Cpl. Paul Brouthers.

The 172B exit ramp remained closed as of 7 p.m. Johnson, who had just driven through the area minutes earlier, said the truck was still on its side. Brouthers said the ramp would remain closed until the truck could be set upright. That couldn't happen until the contents of the tank were transferred to another truck.

The tank was filled with acrylamide in Riceboro, Ga., Berry said. Acrylamide is used to make polyacrylamide, which is used in some cosmetics and in some food packaging materials, in soil-conditioning agents and in the formation of plastics and specialized grouting agents, according to information from the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Web site.

Smith was on his way to Michigan, so it wasn't clear why he was going east. Brouthers said Smith took the exit too fast.

The state Department of Public Safety recorded three truck roll-overs last year around the I-26 and I-95 interchanges. Before Wednesday, no such incidents had been reported this year, according to the agency's office of highway safety.

Highway Patrol still is investigating, and no citations had been issued as of Wednesday evening.