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1 dead, dozens treated after crashes, chemical spill on Hwy. 401

News Staff and The Canadian Press | posted Wednesday, Mar 15th, 2017

A crash involving at least 30 vehicles on a major highway east of Toronto on Tuesday killed a truck driver and caused a chemical spill, prompting police to evacuate the area and Kingston General Hospital (KGH) to declare a “Code Orange.”

Highway 401 will remain closed indefinitely in both directions between Mallorytown and Lansdowne, Ontario provincial police said Wednesday.

The hospital was treating the incident as an “external disaster” and had set up a decontamination bay for patients arriving from the scene, spokeswoman Meaghan Quinn said.

Non-critical emergency patients were being re-routed to Hotel Dieu Hospital, and the community was being asked to avoid KGH except for serious or critical emergency care.

Hospital officials said they admitted 29 patients from the incident. The driver of the tractor-trailer carrying the hazardous substance died.

At least 10 of the patients were first responders, who underwent decontamination and were held for observation as a precaution.

OPP said that seven firefighters, three police officers and 17 civilians were treated for exposure to the substance as a precaution. Frontenac paramedics said that three members of their team were also treated.

The crash was one of three that happened in poor weather at about 2 p.m. ET near Lansdowne.

OPP Const. Sandra Barr says the pile-ups on Highway 401 east of Kingston involved cars and about 15 transport trucks..

Barr says one of the transport trucks was leaking a toxic substance, which was later confirmed to be fluorosilicic acid.

Exposure to the chemical can cause irritation to the nose, throat, respiratory system, redness or swelling of the skin and severe eye irritation. Also, symptoms can take several hours to appear, which is why patients were being kept for observation.

Residences around the highway did not have to be evacuated, Barr says, adding that the evacuation was only applied to the highway and the people involved in the crash.

Around 8 p.m., Ministry of the Environment staff, including hazmat teams, arrived to evaluate the spill area.

“You really don’t necessarily know what’s travelling along these highways and your railways and they’re going through all of our towns and cities,” said Joseph Baptista, mayor of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, where the spill happened.

“For us, obviously, it’s a concern because we have a very busy stretch here along the 401 that goes through our municipality.”

The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes, but the highway was closed in both directions around the collision site. A cattle truck involved in the pile-uphad to wait for another truck to transport the animals.

Despite the poor weather conditions, including icy roads and blowing snow, Barr says before the crash, officers were trying to stop one motorist speeding at about 160 kilometres an hour on the highway, which has a 100-kilometre-per-hour limit. She says that incident was not related to the pileup.

The highway was expected to remain closed until at least midnight Tuesday.

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