Insurance Companies Complicate Hazardous Spill Cleanup

It seems that insurance companies get in the way of resolving problems. For example, cleanup of a chemical spill that shut down U.S. Highway 287 was delayed by insurance company concerns earlier this month. The issue: Who is paying for the cleanup? The accident, which occurred when a tanker truck overturned on 287 between Memphis and Childress, spilled 2,640 gallons of a toxic mixture of lead, calcium-zinc and Rea Tin 4435 onto the highway and adjacent ground.

A spokesperson for the company hired to do the cleanup noted that he had not seen a similar incident in 17 or 18 years. He also said that his company “was being hampered by insurance companies and authorization of work and what insurance limits will allow for the cleanup of this spill.”

The uncertainty began almost as soon as the truck overturned. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said that it sent a certified letter to the truck owner, Truckland Inc. of Las Vegas, demanding that the company take steps to clean up the spill. The same day, a firm that had begun the cleanup notified the TCEQ that it would not continue because it was not confident it would be paid. It noted that the site was an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to health and the environment.

However, a dispatcher at Truckland said that another hazmat company hired by one of the operator’s insurance companies was cleaning up the spill.

While uncertainty surrounded who was doing the cleanup, the dangers of the chemicals spilled were well-known. The most dangerous one, Rea Tin 4435, is suspected of causing genetic defects. It could also affect fertility or an unborn child. Repeated or lengthy exposure could result in organ damage. It can cause allergic skin reactions and damage the eyes.

Cleaning up the spill is time-consuming. It is also dangerous. Crews wear full hazmat suits in 90-degree heat, forcing the company to rotate them out of the cleanup site every 20 minutes. When they leave the site, their suits are decontaminated. There are 14 workers at the site.

Most of the tanker contents spilled on the side of the road. The cleanup crew will capture any runoff from the cleanup and dispose of it properly. Dirt in the median will have to be removed. The crew will use a surfactant that will bind with the chemical that can then be scrubbed off the paved surface.

It was reported that three or four insurance adjusters from different companies were on the scene.