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Chemical spill closes I-5 briefly

Interstate 5 was closed briefly early Sunday and traffic was slowed during the day while firefighters cleaned up an herbicide spill.

Oregon State Police closed the freeway in both directions after a southbound twin-trailer truck overturned around 11:10 p.m. Saturday near milepost 6, rupturing two 250-gallon drums of weed-killer.

Both northbound lanes were reopened by 6 a.m. and one southbound lane was reopened by 7 a.m., said Ken Kennedy, a dispatcher for Oregon State Police.

State police closed the freeway as a precaution while they determined what had spilled, Kennedy said.

They weren't letting anybody up there for anything, said Khalil Perez, of Ashland, who works at Callahan's Lodge, the restaurant and motel near milepost 6.

— Northbound traffic was diverted at exit 1, near Hilt. Southbound traffic was diverted at milepost 11, at the southern edge of Ashland.

Dan Marshall, chief of Jackson County Fire District 5, said firefighters trained and equipped to deal with hazardous materials had essentially completed their cleanup by 6:30 a.m. Marshall said much of the herbicide that spilled soaked into the ground.

Lt. Gregg Hastings said in a press release that the truck driver apparently swerved to avoid a deer and lost control of the rig, which overturned on the freeway shoulder. The lead trailer carried five 250-gallon drums of Weedar 64, an herbicide manufactured by Nufarm Inc, of St. Joseph, Mo.

The rear trailer was empty.

The herbicide kills broadleaf plants and is used in agriculture and forestry to kill unwanted vegetation. It is commonly known as 2,4-D, a shortened version of its chemical name: 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid.

The same basic herbicide is produced by many manufacturers and sold under a variety of brand names.

State officials were concerned because some of the herbicide spilled into a drainage ditch that empties into the west fork of Carter Creek, a tributary of Emigrant Creek. Hastings said representatives from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as the Department of Transportation were at the spill site to assess possible environmental damage from the herbicide.

The truck that overturned is owned by Oak Harbor Freight Lines, of Oak Harbor Wash. Mike Gardner, a spokesman for the trucking company, said the driver, Leonard Miller, 58, of Newark, Calif., was not injured in the accident.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail