Local News

Truck Spills Amonium Nitrate in Johnston...

Posted April 30, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Hazmat and firefighting crews have cleared out and all that's left of a potentially deadly situation in Johnston County is a white, sandy pile on the ground. The substance in that pile is amonium nitrate, and it came from a truck carrying 15,000 pounds,plus 8,000 pounds of detonating agent which spilled its load Wednesday morning.

The spill led to the evacuation of about 50 homes within three-quarters of a mile of the spill.

Authorities were concerned because the truck was leaking fuel oil, and because it also was loaded with 1,000 pounds of fuel oil and several packages of blasting caps when it tipped over. The truck was righted about noon. they weren't sure how dangerous the situation was, but they did know it might possibly be deadly.

Resident Joy Jones says it was a frightening moment when firefighters approached her home and told her what had happened.

By itself, amonium nitrate, commonly used as fertilizer, is not dangerous. But when mixed with other substances, such as fuel, amonium nitrate can be combustible. A combination of amonium nitrate and fuel oil was used in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

Authorities said the volume of the truck's spilled contents would make it five times more powerful than the mixture that exploded in front of the Murrah Federal Building two years ago.

The truck driver, Chad Christian Weaver, 27, of Greenville is charged with running a stop sign and not having a valid commercial driver's license.

An explosives ordnance team from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and a regional response hazardous materials team were called in to help clean up the spill and minimize the danger of an explosion.

Princeton Fire Chief Ken Starling said there was concern about the blasting caps, which are pressure-sensitive. It was at the bottom of the spilled cargo.

Starling said once the truck was righted, their fears lessened somewhat.

Authorities said the truck's cargo was to have been used for blasting at a rock quarry.

Despite the charges filed against Weaver, Sgt. Jeff Winstead of the state Highway Patrol said the truck had appropriate placards and that Weaver apparently was following the rules pertaining to hauling such a cargo.

Air traffic was being diverted around the accident as a precautionary measure.

``They told me it is stable so that makes me think there is not any danger right now,'' Renee Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Crime Control, said.

The spill happened about 7 a.m. near the Johnston-Wayne county line on Rains Mill Road, about 3 miles from the U.S. 70 Bypass. The driver apparently missed a stop sign in dense fog.

Fog also is being considered a factor in a 25-car pile-up Wednesday morning on N.C. 24 in Cumberland County.

--From staff and wire reports