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Normal operations resume after hazardous spill in Tucson partially closed highway and led to shelter-in-place order, officials say

<i>Tucson Fire Service/Reuters</i><br/>A firefighter works as an overturned truck spews orange smoke in the background on Interstate 10 in Tucson
Tucson Fire Service/Reuters
A firefighter works as an overturned truck spews orange smoke in the background on Interstate 10 in Tucson

By Paradise Afshar, Paul P. Murphy and Chris Boyette, CNN

Officials in Arizona lifted evacuation and shelter-in-place orders and reopened Interstate 10 in Tucson in both directions Wednesday after the roadway was closed due to a hazardous spill of liquid nitric acid.

A commercial truck crash led officials to close a portion of the highway Tuesday, and the closure continued Wednesday as cleanup efforts were underway. The Arizona Department of Public Safety announced Wednesday evening the safety measures were no longer in effect.

“The public may resume normal activities,” DPS said.

Evacuation and shelter-in-place orders were issued for the areas surrounding the spill, and those were also lifted Wednesday.

The driver of the truck died in the crash, the department said, without identifying the person publicly.

The Pima County Health Department and the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center are offering guidance and urging residents who may have been exposed to the spill for at least 15 minutes to assess their exposure.

“While crews were attempting to remove the load from the commercial vehicle, gassing occurred,” DPS said in a news release.

“Recovery and mitigation efforts on the hazardous materials experienced temporary setbacks overnight due to weather conditions,” officials said in an update.

Shawn Bilkey was driving east along I-10 Tuesday near the Rita Road exit, shortly after the truck overturned. (flipped order of grafs with bottom)

Bilkey said the orange-colored gas that came from an overturned tractor trailer carrying liquid nitric acid smelled like smoke, “but not fire smoke … just not pleasant.”

“The traffic never stopped while we were there, it had to have just happened because there was only one cop there at the time,” he said.

He remembered traffic in front of him suddenly slowed, and then he began seeing the orange-colored gas in front of him.

“It was a color I’d never seen in vapor form before, so I decided to start recording,” he said. “Just in case Tucson were to turn into East Palestine y’know?”

In the video, a thick plume of gas is seen emanating from the overturned tractor trailer. It’s seen drifting northward, into and across the westbound Interstate 10 lanes.

“It didn’t smell like anything when we drove by, probably helped that the wind was taking it in the opposite direction,” Bilkey said. “But I was dropping off my friend who lives in Rita Ranch about half a mile north from where the spill was, in the direction the wind was blowing, and when he got out of the car it almost smelled like smoke but not fire smoke it’s hard to explain, just not pleasant.”

Nitric acid is a colorless liquid, has yellow or red fumes and acrid odor, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure to it can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kaylene Chassie and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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