A tragic Illinois ammonia truck crash resulted in the loss of five lives, including a father and his two young children, due to exposure to anhydrous ammonia after a semi-truck carrying this toxic substance crashed. The devastating accident prompted a 15-person National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team to investigate the incident, including experts in motor carrier safety, hazardous materials, and survival factors.
How did the truck crash happen?
The chain of events leading to the accident was initiated when an attempt was made to pass the semi-truck. According to the NTSB, preliminary information suggests another vehicle may have been involved in this passing maneuver near the tanker truck. In response, the truck driver swerved to the right, causing the tanker truck to leave the roadway, overturn, and compromise the cargo tank. As the tanker truck rolled over, it jackknifed and exposed the head end of the tank. As momentum carried the tank forward, it encountered the hitch on a utility trailer, puncturing the cargo tank and leaving a hole approximately 6 inches in diameter. At the time of the accident, the truck was transporting approximately 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, with early estimates indicating that around 4,000 gallons were released.
How many people were injured?
Multiple individuals were hospitalized due to ammonia exposure following the crash, with five requiring airlifts to local medical facilities. The victims have been identified as Kenneth Bryan, 34, along with his children Rosie, 7, and Walker, 10, as well as Danny J. Smith, 67, and Vasile Cricovan, 31. Preliminary findings indicate that all five individuals perished due to exposure to the leaked ammonia, with official autopsies set to commence as soon as possible. The accident occurred on US Highway 40 near Teutopolis, Illinois, approximately 100 miles northeast of St. Louis, Missouri. The NTSB is investigating whether the tanker truck was rerouted onto the minor highway due to an earlier crash on Interstate 70. Around 500 people living within a 1-mile radius of the crash were evacuated from parts of Teutopolis. Still, they were permitted to return to their homes the following night after testing confirmed that the danger from the anhydrous ammonia had dissipated.
How did professionals respond to the accident?
Crews worked diligently to patch part of the rupture on the semi-truck, which slowed the leak but did not completely stop it. Subsequently, the crashed tanker was drained, patched, and transported to a secure location for further investigation by the NTSB and an inquiry by the Illinois State Police to determine the cause of the accident.
What makes anhydrous ammonia so dangerous?
Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is an efficient and commonly utilized nitrogen fertilizer. Its application is straightforward, and it remains easily accessible for agricultural producers. However, it is crucial to exercise caution when dealing with NH3 due to its inherent dangers. Household ammonia, in contrast, is a diluted water solution containing only 5 to 10 percent ammonia. The highly concentrated form, containing over 99 percent ammonia, poses significant health risks.
The term “anhydrous” signifies “without water” because NH3 contains minimal to no water; it has a strong affinity for moisture. This means it can aggressively seek out moisture from various sources, including the soil, or contact with the human body, such as the eyes, throat, lungs, or skin. Any contact with anhydrous ammonia can result in tissue dehydration, caustic burns, and even frostbite. As an agricultural fertilizer, NH3 is compressed into a liquid form, necessitating significant pressure and specialized tanks and equipment. Inadequate storage or improper transportation can lead to severe injuries. Exposure to high levels of anhydrous ammonia can lead to irritation and burns on the skin, mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes, and very high levels can cause severe lung damage or even be fatal.
Victims identified in deadly Teutopolis, Illinois crash
The Effingham County Coroner’s office has identified the victims killed in the fatal crash and chemical spill.
The five people who lost their lives were:
- Kenneth Bryan, 34, of Teutopolis, Ill
- Rosie Bryan, 7, of Beecher City, Ill
- Walker Bryan, 10, of Beecher City, Ill
- Vasile Cricovan, 31, of Twinsburg, OH
- Danny J. Smith, 67, of New Haven, MO
The preliminary investigation found that the victims died from anhydrous ammonia exposure at the scene.
The five people who were airlifted to area hospitals due to exposure at the crash site included:
- Jacob Bloemker, 24, of Brownstown, Ill.
- John Costello, 19, of Olathe, KN
- Anja Dangelmaier, 18, of Dallas TX
- Sara Tague, 18, of Lake Elmo, MN
- Terrie Tudor, 61, of Union, MO
Two other individuals were treated at St. Anthony Hospital in Effingham for exposure at the scene, and several others were treated in Vincennes after traveling past the crash site. Renowned social justice and personal injury lawyer Ben Crump and his team at Ben Crump Law will represent at least one of the victims.