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Chemical spill on MLK Drive backs up traffic for hours

I-40 closed over weekend for cleanup due to hazard

I-40 closed over weekend for cleanup due to hazard


I-40 closed over weekend for cleanup due to hazard


Westbound traffic on the Hernando DeSoto bridge on I-40 was backed up for hours around noon on Saturday after a hazardous chemical spill involving a tractor trailer crash occurred on MLK Drive near the I-40 on ramp at Exit 279A in West Memphis.

The West Memphis Fire Department was called into action and once arriving on the scene and having cordoning off the area and donning PPE hazmat gear made their way to the cab of the overturned semi. The driver had kicked out the windshield to escape the wreck but in his haste failed to take with him the necessary documents to identity the exact chemical in question.

After gaining entry to the cab and identifying that it was indeed organic peroxide the fire department then proceeded to use water and not foam to dilute the chemical until bringing it down to a neutral (harmless) pH level which according to Division Chief Robert Made was standard for this type of chemical.

Organic peroxide can be highly dangerous because it contains both oxygen and organic matter burns easily and can also give off flammable gases or vapors.

See SPILL, page A2

West Memphis firefighters work diligently to dilute the caustic chemicals.


From page A1

For these reasons, the biggest concerns with organic peroxides are fires and explosions. Organic peroxide can catch fire, burn vigorously and is hard to put out and is also highly toxic.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration organic peroxide can severely irritate the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.

About three hours after initial clean up had finished there were reports of a small fireball explosion from inside the trailer that according to Fire Chief Barry Ealy probably happened due to built up hydrogen gas inside the trailer and was ignited by sparks when moving the downed semi.

Once the area was declared safe, safety crews were allowed in to begin the initial clean up process for which the company who produces the chemical will be responsible for in all future clean up efforts deemed necessary.

Fire Chief Barry Ealy and Crittenden County OEM Coordinator Bud Spears made the decision that the areas was safe and passed it along to local authorities that they could safely open up lanes of traffic just before 5pm. However firefighters remained on the scene for a total of thirteen hours for observation before finally leaving just before midnight.

It was less than a year ago that firefighters were required to extinguish another chemical fire which occurred at Warren Oil.

An aerial image of the overturned tractor-trailer.

Photos by WMFD

The inside of the burned out semi trailer which exploded into a fireball 3 hours after the accident due to the build up of hydrogen gas.

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