By: CBC News 14-Mar- 2017 (Last Updated 15-Mar-2017) – Kingston General Hospital says one person has died following a massive, 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 east of the city that spilled a toxic substance at the scene.
The afternoon pileup closed the highway in both directions and forced motorists to evacuate from the area.
In a statement Tuesday evening, the Kingston hospital said it received 29 patients from the crash scene, including 13 first responders who underwent decontamination and were held for observation as a precaution. Some of the patients have already been released.
The OPP said a male driver of one of the tractor-trailers involved in the crash died as a result of his injuries.
The hazardous material unit was called in because some of the tractor-trailers involved in the crash were carrying caustic materials, later identified as fluorosilicic acid, according to the hospital.
“Exposure to the chemical could cause irritation to the nose, throat, respiratory system, irritation, redness or swelling of the skin and severe eye irritation,” the statement said.
The flood of patients has diminished and the hospital declared a code orange over at 8 p.m. ET. According to the Ontario Hospital Association, code orange is used in the event of an external disaster resulting in a surge of casualties seeking care at a hospital urgent or emergency department.
“One of the involved transports is leaking a toxic substance, as a precaution the area is being evacuated,” said Const. Sandra Barr in a news release. “Both east and westbound 401 will be closed to allow for the investigation. Detours have been set up.”
The eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 401 remain closed from Reynolds Road to Mallorytown Road.
Barr told CBC News some first responders were exposed to the chemical while coming to the aid of the driver of a transport truck, who was taken to hospital for his injuries.
“The five firefighters, for sure, were involved in trying to rescue this driver who was in his transport, and the three police officers as well,” she said.
Medical attention required
The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, where the crash occurred, said in a statement that the site has been contained.
“All vehicles have been rerouted and all persons with potential chemical exposure having been transported for medical attention. No residential properties were affected and there is no risk to the general public,” a spokesperson for the township wrote at 5:15 p.m. on the municipality’s Facebook page.
“The Ministry of the Environment has been notified and cleanup crews have arrived on site to remediate the area from the chemical spill.”
Police described conditions on the highway as “near whiteout” when the crash occurred around 2 p.m. ET.
Gananoque police posted a message on their Facebook page saying that according to the Leeds Fire Department, the hazardous material that leaked turns into hydrofluoric acid if exposed to heat.
“Hydrofluoric acid is a highly toxic, highly corrosive and poisonous solution which is harmful to skin, lungs and eyes.”
Kingston General Hospital set up a decontamination bay for patients, according to spokesperson John Pereira.
Non-critical emergency patients were rerouted to Hotel Dieu Hospital, also in Kingston, said Pereira.
Police asked motorists at the scene to stay in their vehicles while emergency crews carried out their work.
Emergency responders from the surrounding area, including Ottawa fire services, were at the scene.
About 30 vehicles, mostly tractor-trailers, were involved in the crash, according to Acting Sgt. Angie Atkinson.