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Pesticide spill on Pacific Highway North of Coffs Harbour

Published: 24th February 2006

Fire officers praised the action of a road tanker driver whose vehicle leaked pesticide onto the Pacific Highway at Dirty Creek, 45 kms north of Coffs Harbour on 23 February 2006. The incident was reported by triple zero to the NSW Fire Brigades just after 11.30 am. Fire crews from the NSW Fire Brigades and the Rural Fire Service were responded, including a NSW Fire Brigades hazardous materials unit from Coffs Harbour.

When crews arrived they found liquid had leaked from the tanker and had been spread over a large area by traffic. One person had been overcome by fumes and an ambulance was requested to treat them. Police were also called to assist the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to manage traffic around the site as the highway was closed for the duration of the incident. Fire crews established a 700 m exclusion zone around the site and evacuated a house 200 m downwind.

Consultation with the driver and the transport company helped firefighters identify the substance. The tanker contained approximately 9000 litres of pesticide, 2000 litres of which had leaked. Upon becoming aware of the leak the driver positioned the truck on an incline and lowered the front so that the liquid flowed away from the leak, minimising the discharge.

Firefighters wearing air cylinders and protective clothing investigated the source and extent of the leak. A supply of sand was ordered to absorb the spilt pesticide ready for disposal. Crews worked until about 4 pm applying sand to the pesticide while a mechanic repaired the leaking tanker. The area was declared safe at around 4.30 pm, at which time the highway was reopened.

One other person was affected by the pesticide. Both casualties were treated at the scene by Ambulance officers.

NSW Fire Brigades commander, Inspector Rob Harley, commended the actions of the tanker driver. ‘If the quick thinking driver had not positioned the truck in a way which controlled the leak we would have been dealing with a much larger incident,’ Inspector Harley said. He also acknowledged the cooperation of the services. ‘The NSW Fire Brigades, the Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Police and RTA all worked well together to manage the incident.’