Officials deal with environmental side of big freeway pileup

State officials are trying to determine who is responsible for environmental contamination that occurred as a result of a massive pileup on snowy Interstate 94 in southwestern Michigan six months ago.

The Jan. 9 chain-reaction crashes killed a 57-year-old trucker and closed a stretch of the roadway for two days. Police announced in March that dozens of drivers were being ticketed, mostly for traveling too fast for the road conditions.

The pileup also caused hazardous materials to leak from ruptured containers and tanks, seep into the ground and flow into drains. Officials want to compel those responsible for the contamination to pay for the cleanup, The Detroit News reported.

Officials with Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and state police are going through accident reports, videos and photos from the crashes to determine responsibility.

“We have to go back through and geo-spatially locate all of the individual spills, sit down with the state police and figure out which vehicle sat at which location,” said Mark DuCharme, a senior environmental analyst with the DEQ.

In some cases, he said it was clear which vehicle led to a specific release. In other cases, determining responsibility is more difficult.

The crashes involved vehicles on both sides of the freeway east of Galesburg, including dozens of commercial trucks. They included a tanker hauling 44,600 pounds of liquid formic acid that overturned next to a semi-truck loaded with 40,000 pounds of fireworks.

The two trucks, as well as the formic acid, burned. State officials said the leaked chemicals were not a threat to nearby homes and businesses. Companies responsible for the formic acid and fireworks have already paid for cleanup work, the newspaper reported.

“Most of us hadn’t dealt with anything of this magnitude before,” Michigan State Police Lt. Dale Hintz said.

Jean Larocque, 57, of Quebec, died after crashing into the back of a tractor trailer hauling vehicles, police said. Eighteen people from seven states and Canada were injured, police said, and five emergency workers were treated for minor injuries sustained while responding.  (AP)

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