Trucker hospitalized after chemical reaction in trailer releases toxic gas

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Friday, September 06, 2013

The driver of a tractor-trailer whose load of copper concentrate began smoldering and emitting toxic gas is expected to make a full recovery, according to a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Jason Larson, 40, was transported to an Arizona hospital after he reportedly became ill due to the gas, hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of a chemical reaction that transpired within the copper concentrate, according to DPS spokesman Carrick Cook.

The toxic gas also led to a hazardous materials cleanup incident on U.S. Highway 60, between Wittmann and Morristown, according to information from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Larson, a driver for CTI Inc. of Rillito, was in the process of transporting the copper concentrate from a mine near Golden Valley to a facility in Phoenix for further processing, when he began to feel symptoms of “dizziness and confusion,” Cook said.

At 12:40 a.m. on Friday, Larson’s vehicle stopped at U.S. 60, also known as Grand Avenue, between State Route 74 and 203rd Avenue, which was described as a remote, low-traffic area. Officials with the state department of public safety, a hazardous materials cleanup crew, and the Surprise Fire Department responded.

Cook said investigators believe the chemical reaction was caused by excessive elements of iron and sulfur that were mixed with the copper concentrate. As the chemical reaction took place, the temperature of the materials rose to a reported 1,000 degrees.

“A firefighter on the scene told me it looked volcanic in nature,” Cook said. “130 degrees is an optimal working temperature (for the copper).”

Cook said further investigation has found that at least one other trucker hauling a load from the same mine experienced a similar issue with the copper concentrate combusting. He said the state DPS has contacted the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration to assist in an investigation.

A spokesman for CTI could not be reached for comment Friday.

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