Misidentification of chemical spill caused cleanup delay, authorities say

The misidentification of the substance spilled during a crash on Northwest Highway in Barrington caused valuable time to be lost in cleanup efforts that led to nearly three days of lane closures, authorities said Friday.

All westbound lanes at Hart Road reopened just after 3 p.m. Friday, ending a series of delays and detours for drivers that began at 11:29 p.m. Tuesday, when a semitrailer truck rear-ended a pickup and caused an immediate fiery explosion.

The crash impact would continue to be felt by motorists for several days as hazmat crews had to be summoned to clean up the semitrailer's spill of 3,000 gallons of a liquid compound used in making polyurethane.

The semitrailer driver described the substance as vegetable oil during the initial spill cleanup. It wasn't until 10:45 a.m. Wednesday that the trucking company correctly identified the chemical as methylene diphenyl diisocycanate, authorities said.

The compound is characterized as an allergen and irritant rather than a more toxic substance, but it required a more intense cleanup than vegetable oil, Barrington spokeswoman Patty Dowd Schmitz said.

Classified as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, the chemical required additional equipment to be ordered and delivered to the site, she said.

"The unfortunate, almost 12-hour delay in being informed of the true substance involved in the spill undeniably caused delays in the cleanup efforts," Schmitz said. "Once the substance was identified, all previous cleanup efforts were stopped in order to call in the Illinois EPA and the various agencies, organizations and companies that needed to be involved in the cleanup."

Throughout the process, the top priority was the safety of the public and the first-responders, Schmitz added.

Officials from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said there was no risk to the water supply or public, and nearby stores remained open during the cleanup. The work was overseen by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the IEPA.

The cleanup focused on the shoulder of westbound Northwest Highway between Hart Road and The Foundry of Barrington shopping center entrance. A large swath of the grassy berm was excavated by crews, Schmitz said. Numerous containers of contaminated soil and gravel were hauled away from the site to be properly disposed in accordance with state and federal regulations.

A granular clay absorbent was used to soak up the contaminated materials, Mickey Alroy, emergency response manager for SET Environmental Inc., told Barrington officials.

The work forced closure of both westbound lanes and use of detours from midday Wednesday until 3:30 a.m. Friday. One westbound lane was opened then, followed by the other nearly 12 hours later.

Approximately 27,000 vehicles per day travel that stretch of road, according to IDOT figures.

Barrington's Public Safety Building, where first-responders returned after the initial cleanup without knowledge of the spill's true nature, also had to be cleaned and evaluated before being declared clear of contamination.

Cleanup efforts were ongoing late Friday on Eastgate Road in Crystal Lake where the two vehicles involved in the traffic accident were towed, and three effected businesses remained closed, officials said.

The insurance company for the trucking firm that was carrying the chemical will bear the full cost of the cleanup, Schmitz said. No cost estimates were available, but discussions are continuing between the village and the insurance company.

It's unclear whether the truck had or was supposed to have a placard identifying its cargo, as everything was destroyed in the fire, she said.

The pickup driver and passenger were treated for crash injuries at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Lake Barrington and released.

The semitrailer driver was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, police said.

It's unclear whether the driver will face repercussions for providing incorrect information about the spilled substance to first-responders, Schmitz said.

Northwest Highway in Barrington remains closed to westbound traffic Thursday

Cleanup keeps Northwest Hwy. closed overnight in Barrington

  Cleanup was completed Friday at the site of a chemical spill along Northwest Highway in Barrington. Both westbound lanes were reopen by 3 p.m. Joe Lewnard/
  Cleanup was completed Friday at the site of a chemical spill along Northwest Highway at Hart Road in Barrington. The spill occurred when a semitrailer carrying 3,000 gallons of a compound used in the production of polyurethane rear-ended a pickup truck late Tuesday. Joe Lewnard/
  A Homeland Security command vehicle is parked at The Foundry of Barrington shopping center Friday, as cleanup was completed at the site of a chemical spill along Northwest Highway in Barrington. Joe Lewnard/
  Cleanup was completed Friday at the site of a chemical spill along Northwest Highway, near The Foundry of Barrington shopping center in Barrington. Joe Lewnard/
  This was the scene earlier this week as crews cleaned a chemical spill near the westbound lanes of Northwest Highway in Barrington. The chemical was spilled during a Tuesday night traffic accident, but authorities say misidentification of the substance led to a delay in the cleanup. Bob Chwedyk/
  This photo, shot by the Daily Herald's drone, shows the area of the chemical cleanup along Northwest Highway in Barrington. Mark Welsh/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.