Pennsylvania acid spill forces evacuations

Traffic is backed up Saturday after a truck spilled hydrofluoric acid in eastern Pennsylvania.
A tractor-trailer carrying 33,000 pounds of corrosive hydrofluoric acid overturned in eastern Pennsylvania early Saturday, spurring evacuations, authorities said.

The acid was spilled at 3:30 a.m. on northbound State Road 33 near Wind Gap. About 5,000 people within a 1 mile radius of the accident in Plainfield Township were ordered to evacuate as a precaution, and could be away for up to 24 hours, said Jeff Steiert, systems manager with the Northampton County Office of Emergency Management. A shelter was set up at Pen Argyl High School, allowing pets. The Red Cross was contacted for help, authorities said. The driver, who was briefly trapped in the truck, was treated at a hospital and released, said John Conklin, spokesman for the Northampton emergency office. No other injuries had been reported, Steiert said. Most of the acid in the tank was in the form of pressurized gas, although some water was present, Conklin said.

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Environmental workers were cleaning up the spill. PennDOT and state police were working with Northampton and Monroe counties to control traffic. Hydrogen fluoride is a chemical compound used mainly for industrial purposes, such as etching glass, and is extremely corrosive. It also is used to make high-octane gasoline, refrigerants, aluminum and light bulbs. Concentrated solutions can cause severe burns, according to medical authorities. Inhaling the gas causes respiratory irritation, severe eye damage and pulmonary edema.