A suspicious chemical leak forced Monteagle residents to shelter in place for several hours last Friday morning.
According to Grundy County emergency officials, Monteagle Police received an anonymous call around 4 a.m. alerting emergency crews of fumes coming from a parked tanker truck behind the Shan Chinese Buffet, located at 211 Dixie Lee Highway in Monteagle. The caller was reportedly parked next to the tanker and said the vapors were emitting from the tank itself. The driver of the tanker was reportedly asleep in his cab, per the anonymous call.
Upon investigation by Monteagle authorities, the scene was closed to all traffic to keep residents and travelers away from the area. Additionally, roads in and out of Monteagle proper were also blocked to keep people from encountering the fumes. The substance leaking from the tank could not be immediately identified, though emergency officials contacted the trucking company to determine the hauled material.
According to Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Rodman, a unified command including dozens of agencies, including Grundy County Emergency Management Agency, the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Marion County Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Coffee County Emergency Management Agency and Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) crews from Tullahoma and Manchester, was set up to respond to the emergency.
Area residents were notified via text messages and social media postings by area law enforcement agencies to stay inside their homes and avoid the area in question while crews determined the danger of the scene. Sirens were not activated in order to keep curious neighbors from gathering at the scene, according to emergency officials.
“The siren was not sounded because authorities did not want residents to exit their homes,” Marion County EMA Spokesman Steve Lamb said.
Lamb added there was a vapor cloud at the scene, and emergency crews did not want the residents to be exposed to the unknown substance and potentially become ill.
“The safety of the public is our number one priority,” Lamb said. “We want to always err on the side of caution.”
According to reports, the tanker driver refused medical treatment at the time of the incident.
As of 8:15 a.m., the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office reported the spill area had been centralized, though city and county officials still asked that residents keep inside their homes until crews had contained things.
The shelter-in-place order was lifted between 8 and 9 a.m. once the vapor cloud had dispersed and the spill contained, according to emergency officials.
According to reports, Lamb believes there was a mix-up with the trailer its hauled material.
“At this point, we believe the material was put in the wrong trailer at the point of origination, and the material had a chemical reaction with the trailer, which resulted in the vapor,” he said.
No injuries or hospitalizations were reported in relation to the incident.
According to officials with the Coffee County EMA, the substance was later identified as chlorobutane. The reaction that occurred and caused the tank to rupture and spill was still under investigation as of Monday afternoon.