Trucker’s HazMat Notification Questioned After Truck Crash, Fire, and Chemical Cargo Misrepresented on Northwest Highway, Barrington



A semi-trailer truck driver who rear-ended a pickup truck, did not properly inform firefighters about his hazardous cargo, known as MDI or an isocyanate. The resulting fire response and hazmat response would have been quite different than the response that occurred for the chemical that was misrepresented as vegetable oil.

Following are some of the changes in fireground strategy necessitated by the hazardous chemical …

Fires involving MDI are best fought with alcohol-resistant foam, instead of water. In fact, water is not recommended, unless used as a water fog or fine spray in large quantities. Unmanned hose holders are recommended, and firefighters are advised to wear positive-pressure, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with an approved full-face mask and protective firefighting clothing. Firefighters are also advised to position upwind from the fire, and to avoid spending time without respiratory protection in low-lying areas where gases and vapors could collect. The wind Tuesday around midnight was from the southwest at about 14 mph and was gusting 22 to 26 mph.

Firefighters working to extinguish an MDI fire are advised to contain fire water run-off, if possible. Fire water runoff, if not contained, may cause environmental damage. MDI and modified MDI products rapidly react with water to form insoluble polyurea solids that are chemically and biologically inert. According to The Dow Chemical Company, these polyurea solids are unlikely to accumulate in the food chain, and are practically non-toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms on an acute basis.

The fire water run-off and spilled material appeared to be just north of the location where the semi-trailer truck was burning. If polyurea solids formed, it is possible some of the polyurea solids formed in that area, on the roadway and mixed in with the parkway grass and soil on the north side of US 14 (Northwest Highway).

See also DOW Product Safety Assessment Modified Methyl Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI) Products [PDF]

Clean-up after semi-trailer truck vs pickup truck crash with fire at Northwest Highway and Hart Rd, Barrington

A section of westbound Northwest Highway just west of Hart Road in Barrington was scheduled to remain closed to traffic Thursday morning during rush hour after a continued cleanup following a crash and fire involving a semi-trailer truck and a small pickup truck at 11:29 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

Firefighters were initially told by the semi-truck driver late Tuesday night that the cargo on the semi-trailer was a vegetable oil-related compound, fire and police officials were not correctly notified about the true chemical until Wednesday afternoon. The trucking company reported that the cargo was methylene diphenyl diisocycanate — an MDI chemical used in the manufacturing process of polyurethane for a variety of products.

Methylene diphenyl diisocycanate (MDI) is highly reactive with water, and is characterized as an allergen and irritant with low human toxicity. The chemical can cause allergic reactions or cause a person to be sensitive to a future exposure.

Excessive exposure may cause irritation to the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) and lungs. MDI inhalation exposure may also cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).

Respiratory effects may be delayed, and decreased lung function has been associated with overexposure to isocyanates.

Respiratory sensitization by MDI may cause a serious allergic respiratory response. Modified MDI concentrations below the exposure guidelines may cause allergic respiratory reactions among individuals already sensitized. Asthma-like symptoms may include coughing, difficult breathing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest. Occasionally, breathing difficulties may be life threatening.

MDI, which is used to make hard, rigid polyurethane, is also highly flammable. As mentioned, MDI fires are best fought with alcohol-resistant foams.

An aerial image from WGN-TV Traffic indicates that cleanup operations Thursday morning have included excavation of surface soil from the crash site toward a ditch near the north shoulder with diking downstream to the northwest. A retention pond or detention pond is also located just to the north of the crash site, and diking also appears to be protecting the reservoir. The excavation of surface soil and grass is likely an effort to remove the soil that is contaminated with solids that formed from MDI contamination.

By Wednesday afternoon it was realized that Tuesday night’s crash involving Methylene diphenyl diisocycanate required a more intense cleanup than vegetable oil. MDI reacts within 48 hours to form insoluble polyureas (or polyurea solids) which will tend to float on water or sink to become associated with sediments.

According to The Dow Chemical Company, all spills and leaks should be immediately contained to prevent contamination of soil, surface or groundwater. Spills or leaks of MDI and modified MDI products should be contained and cleaned up only by properly trained and equipped personnel. Unprotected and untrained personnel should not enter the contaminated area.

According to CAMEO Chemicals, MDI is known to react with absorbent materials Cellulose-Based Absorbents, Mineral-Based & Clay-Based Absorbents, and Dirt/Earth. Also, according to CAMEO, the spill or leak area should be isolated in all directions for at least 50 meters (150 feet) for liquids and at least 25 meters (75 feet) for solids. CAMEO is a system of software applications tools developed by the EPA’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration (NOAA). CAMEO is used to model scenarios regarding spills, fires and weather conditions to assist front-line chemical emergency planners and responders.

Just before afternoon rush hour Wednesday, westbound Northwest Highway was completely shut down for additional cleanup. Drivers were advised to avoid the area and seek alternate routes until the all-clear was given.

Overnight Wednesday and Thursday morning, traffic was rerouted northbound on Hart Road to Cuba Road, according to Barrington Police Department. An alternate is Route 59.

Firefighting crews reported that strong winds helped dissipate the vapors. Local authorities reported there is no immediate threat to the public or the area’s water resources.

The Village of Barrington has not yet determined whether the village will pursue any action regarding the initial misinformation about the nature of the leaked and burning chemical. Shippers of hazardous materials are required to carry a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and display a US DOT Hazmat Placard with the proper identification. The DOT Hazard Label for MDI is “Poison” with a UN/NA Number of 2206 on the placard. A familiar sight on trucks on roadways is “1203” which is gasoline. Liquid Petroleum gas is “1075.”


Barrington police and firefighter/paramedics responded about 11:30 PM Tuesday to a report of crash involving a semi-trailer truck with fire and injuries at Northwest Highway and Hart Road Barrington, Il. Police and firefighter/paramedics received a report that a semi-trailer truck crashed with a small pickup truck and that the crash resulted in a fire at 600 West Northwest Highway in front of Wickstrom Ford.

The wreck was actually located in front of Ambrosia Euro American Patisserie in the westbound lanes of Northwest Highway, just west of Hart Road.

The first fire crew on arrival reported a fully-involved vehicle fire from the cab.

Fire extended to the trailer with the trailer cargo misidentified as vegetable oil involved with fire.

The bed, cap, rear frame and wheels of the pickup truck that crashed with the semi-trailer truck were ripped away from the front of the small pickup truck.

Two patients were reported with injuries initially believed to be not life-threatening. One Basic Life Support patient was refusing medical transport at the scene, as of about 12:30 a.m.

Palatine Rural A36 transported one patient to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.

Fox River Grove A657 transported one patient Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.

The pickup truck driver, 35, and passenger, 49, were kept overnight at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington with injuries that were not initially considered to be life-threatening. Their injuries in the crash were a result of the collision, not the fire. They were released from Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Wednesday morning after treatment.

It is unknown if the two people who were injured in the pickup truck were exposed to any of the MDI when the semitrailer truck carrying 3,000 pounds of MDI rear-ended their pickup truck. Several explosions occurred and heavy fire engulfed the trailer of the semi-trailer truck. The fire was brought under control in 35 minutes.

The driver of the semi-trailer truck, who was treated at the scene and released, was issued a citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, according to police.

There was extended vehicle recovery, chemical spill cleanup, and accident investigation at the scene overnight.


ENGINE(S): E361 Barrington-Countryside E38 Palatine Rural E36 Lake Zurich E322

CHIEF(S): BC36 3606

EMS: A361 Palatine Rural A36 Fox River Grove A657

CHANGE OF QUARTERS: Hoffman Estates E23 Long Grove A55

LIVE TRAFFIC MAP of neighborhood to a report of crash involving a semi-trailer truck with fire and injuries at near Northwest Highway and Hart Road Barrington, Il …

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