A tanker truck spilled more than 3,000 gallons of ethanol into the Root River on Thursday when it rolled on Minnesota Highway 16 just west of Lanesboro, Minn.
The wreck happened shortly after noon, forcing the closure of a five-mile stretch of road from U.S. Highway 52 to Lanesboro, trapping the driver in the truck for more than an hour and sparking a major cleanup effort from state and local agencies.
At risk was the Root River. Ethanol poured down a bank and seeped though bedrock faster than crews could contain it. Theres really nothing you can do once it hits the water, said Mike Rose of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agencys spills response team working at the scene.
The ethanol, which is water soluble, did not immediately appear to affect wildlife, officials said. Fish kills have occurred in minutes following similar spills, but no fish were seen floating in the Root soon after the wreck Thursday.
In fact, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials deemed the river safe shortly after the spill.
A Minnesota Department of Transportation hazmat crew and other officials dumped 30 cubic yards of sand to soak up the ethanol foaming on the road and planned to continue cleaning up until close to midnight.
Meanwhile, the driver, Rita Benes, 46, of Bryant, Wis., is recovering from apparently minor injuries at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minn.
Shes OK. I heard her talking in the ambulance, said Shon Stefan of La Crosse, Wis., who along with Benes drives ethanol trucks for Milwaukee-based Cargo Transport. But shes pretty banged up, the way the cabs looking over there.
Police say Benes rolled the 20-foot truck when she failed to negotiate a curve. Speed and inattentive driving may have played a role in the wreck, said Minnesota State Police Bruce Sprugeon, who is leading the investigation into the crash.
Benes was trapped upside down in the cab for more than an hour until the Lanesboro Fire Department used the Jaws of Life to free her.
Shed been traveling from an ethanol plant in Preston, Minn., owned by POET Biorefining. The truck carried 8,000 gallons of ethanol, about half of which was recovered before it leaked from the truck.
Cargo Transport will be responsible for cleanup costs, said Sam Brongardt, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman who specializes in spills.
Officials will continue to take water and soil samples in the coming days, and a report will be filed soon.
The State Patrol is continuing its investigation.