A Trail Times reader urges others, who may have driven through the acid spill in Trail, to understand the potential risk it poses to to public safety. (Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash)

Cars being junked after acid spill on Kootenay highway

A Times reader warns ‘total loss’ of car after driving through May 23 acid spill in Trail

ICBC is dealing with dozens of claims after a May 23 sulphuric acid spill on the highway through Trail damaged cars.

And, in at least one of those cases, the vehicle was written off and sent to the junk yard.

The Trail Times was given a heads up about this state of affairs from a local person who asked to remain unnamed.

“I did read all of the previous stories that the Trail Times has covered,” she began. “But none of them have outlined the risk to public safety and the risk that these spills could potentially pose to the community.”

Her main concern is the possibility that hundreds of people could have driven through the acid.

“This is a huge risk to the community since many people are still unaware that they may have driven through the acid and now their vehicles are slowly breaking down,” she emphasized.

“I feel strongly that people in the community need to know that they may be putting themselves, and others, at risk by keeping their acid-damaged vehicles on the road.”

Her vehicle was written off and ICBC settled the claim this week.

It all began that Wednesday night in May as she was driving home from a sporting event.

“I knew I was driving through something,” she recalled. “It was a nice, clear night and the road was wet. I did not know it was acid until I read the story in the paper the following day.”

She remembers smelling something unusual as she drove through, but the acid had the same consistency as water.

“I was not directly behind the truck but I drove through before the spill had been cleaned up,” the reader said. “The truck, that spilled, was parked at the time I went through.”

Weeks later, and only through word of mouth, did she find out that ICBC was writing off any vehicles that came into contact with the caustic liquid.

“Initially I thought it was no big deal since I drove through after the truck was parked,” she said. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I decided to look into it a bit more. I loved my vehicle and did not want to have it crushed if it was not a hazard to my safety or the safety of those around me.”

After making calls to ICBC and a few drivers affected by the spill, she found out otherwise.

The acid will eat away at any metal, especially aluminum, on the vehicle. The first area that wear becomes evident is on the brake calipers.

“In the past, ICBC has dealt with this same acid and allowed the vehicles that came into contact with it back on the road,” the reader advised. “Those vehicles were later found to have issues with the brakes and other workings, even after being cleaned. All of this information I have gathered through talking to people at ICBC and myself and others, who have had their vehicles written off, and have seen the damage first-hand.”

On Thursday ICBC confirmed to the Times that 19 claims from the May 23 spill have been submitted.

“Our focus is on assisting customers with their claims,” the spokesperson stated via email. “ICBC will be seeking to recover the cost of these claims where possible.”

In two separate incidents, 80 litres of sulphuric acid was spilled on the same stretch of highway through Trail.

Related story here: Trail acid spill

Related story here: Changes made after acid spills

The first time happened the morning of April 10 and extended the 16-km run from the Trail plant to the Waneta re-load station. The second spill occurred around 6 p.m. May 23 and stretched along Highway 3B from the smelter to Shavers Bench.

The owner of the sulphuric acid is IRM (International Raw Materials).

The company buys the product from Teck and is responsible for its transport, which historically, was between 15 and 20 trucks per day from the Trail site.

Last month, IRM’s vice president Tim Mahoney told the Times that changes to both carrier and mode of transport had been made.

Westcan Bulk Transport is no longer the contracted carrier and less trucks are being off-loaded.

“We have reduced (trucks) by approximately 50 per cent,” Mahoney said. “And are shipping higher volumes via railcar from the Trail production site for the time being.”

IRM is committed to ensuring a safe and sustainable operation, he added.

“We are working with all stakeholders to ensure the safe and proper handling and distribution of the sulphuric acid produced in Trail.”

Following the first spill, Westcan Bulk Transport issued a statement and offered some precautionary actions.

“Anyone who feels they may have come in contact with the product should avoid inhalation, digestion, and skin contact and wash any surface or item that may have come in contact with the product as a precaution,” the company advised.

“Anyone who was traveling in the vicinity at the time of the release and is concerned that their vehicle may have come in contact with the product should run their vehicle through an automatic car wash as a precaution to safely dilute and remove any residue.”

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