Summit County hazmat calls increased 20 percent last year, but major spills held steady at only three
Hazardous materials calls in Summit County increased to 197 in 2017 compared with 157 the year before, a 20 percent increase that officials say could reflect the county’s well-documented building boom last year.
Serious spills, meanwhile, remained relatively stable, with only three accidents requiring extensive cleanup, including a sanitation truck that spilled roughly 100 gallons of raw sewage after toppling near Blue River in November.
Overall, the Summit County Hazardous Materials Response Team 2017 annual report indicates that while Summit’s growth continues to push incident calls higher, the area has stayed relatively safe from the toxic materials routinely passing through.
“The hazmat team is made up of a lot of dedicated people who work very hard to make sure the county is safe from the really bad things that are transported through the I-70 and Highway 9 corridors,” said Tyson Houston, Summit County hazmat team coordinator. “We work really hard to try and make sure things stay safe.”
The county’s two fire departments, the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District and Summit Fire and EMS, both contribute personnel to the hazmat team. Most of the county’s nearly 200 hazmat calls last year, however, could be dealt with by a simple fire crew — no space suits required.
Often, those calls were to check on carbon monoxide alarms. In 2017, crews responded to 68 of those alarms, but only 37 of them involved toxic or unsafe levels.
The number of responses to compressed natural gas and liquid petroleum gas saw a modest increase in all areas of Summit County, potentially an outgrowth of frenzied construction activity over the past two years. Summit County issued its highest number of building permits since the recession last year, and more building generally means more gas leaks.
“With CO alarms I would venture a guess that it’s probably from having more people moving around in the county,” Houston said. “But when you start looking at CNG and other natural gas emergencies, that’s mostly from our construction industry.”
There were only three major hazmat spills last year that required a response from the county’s Designated Emergency Response Authority, or DERA. That agency, run through the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, is called in for spills and near-spills of toxic chemicals.
Houston said Summit County typically averages three to five of those spills per year despite major transit routes along Interstate 70 and Highway 6, where some 200 tankers carrying hazardous chemicals traverse the hairpin turns of Loveland Pass daily.
Sometimes, those tankers roll over. That happened on May 18 last year, when Summit County hazmat was called to help the Colorado State Patrol pump nearly 4,000 gallons of gas off of a rolled tanker on the pass.
Just four days earlier, on May 14, 2017, hazmat was called to help remove fuel from the saddle tanks of a truck that caught fire on I-70 in unincorporated Silverthorne.
The most serious of the three spills happened on Nov. 17, when a sanitation vacuum truck rolled over in Blue River, spilling some 100 gallons of raw sewage into a nearby wetland beside the road.
In that case, DERA issued a cleanup order against the company responsible and brought in a state-certified contractor to scrub and contain the mess. That entailed scooping up all of the contaminated earth and trucking it away for disposal until the toxic material could no longer be detected.
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