At least five people are dead after multiple vehicles, including a truck carrying anhydrous ammonia, crashed on Highway 40 near Teutopolis, Illinois, Friday night.
The crash caused a “chemical plume” and forced people living within a one-mile radius of the crash to evacuate, WCIA reported. Anhydrous ammonia, which is used widely for agricultural purposes, is a toxic chemical that can cause lung irritation, severe respiratory issues, and can burn skin and eyes.
The accident resulted in “a large plume, cloud of anhydrous ammonia on the roadway that caused terribly dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis,” Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns said. “Because of these conditions, the emergency responders had to wait. They had to mitigate the conditions before they could really get to work on it, and it was a fairly large area.”
“It’s bad stuff if you breathe it especially because it gets in your airways, in your lungs and it burns,” Kuhns added.
The tanker carrying the anhydrous ammonia rolled into a ditch after crashing and began leaking the toxic chemical, according to Tim McMahon, chief of the Teutopolis Fire Protection District, the Associated Press reported.
Hours before the crash, traffic was rerouted to Highway 40 because of another crash on I-70 eastbound. Authorities are investigating what caused the crash that killed five and resulted in the release of the toxic chemical.
As of Saturday morning, the highway remained closed as crews worked to contain the chemical leak. It remained unclear how many people were evacuated in the village of Teutopolis which is home to around 1,500 people, and evacuation order remained in place Saturday as a shelter was set up for those who had to leave their homes, CNN reported. Kuhns said they did not have a time period for when residents could return home.
“I understand how frustrating that would be to not be allowed to travel or to go back home but we really need to focus our resources on this spill,” he said.