Driver error listed as cause of acid truck rollover

Contributed Photo By Chelsie Stewart Candela: A heavy-duty tow truck utilizes its crane to tip the semi-truck and trailer back onto its wheels.

By Jon Johnson

GRAHAM COUNTY – Driver error was listed as the cause of a sulfuric acid truck rollover on the morning of July 31. 

First responders were dispatched at about 3:26 a.m. to the area of Norton Road and Reay Lane regarding a Barney Trucking semi-truck hauling sulfuric acid that had rolled over into a cotton field. Semi-trucks often loaded with sulphuric acid frequently utilize Norton Road – which has a residential neighborhood – as a bit of a shortcut from their trip from the Miami, Arizona area east to the Safford site.

According to a Graham County Sheriff’s Office report, the driver of the truck, Jordan Shemwell, said he was eastbound at roughly 30 mph when he exited the roadway onto the dirt shoulder to facilitate a bathroom break prior to entering Freeport McMoRan’s Safford Operations site. 

However, recent rains had made the dirt shoulder soft and the truck slid into the mud southward and tipped over. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sulfuric acid is a clear, colorless, oily liquid that is very corrosive. If you are exposed to concentrated sulfuric acid in the air, your nose will be irritated and it may seem like sulfuric acid has a pungent odor. When concentrated sulfuric acid is mixed with water, the solution gets very hot. Concentrated sulfuric acid can catch fire or explode when it comes into contact with many chemicals including acetone, alcohols, and some finely divided metals. When heated it emits highly toxic fumes, which include sulfur trioxide.

No sulfuric acid leaked in the crash, however, diesel fuel from the truck reportedly leaked onto a cotton farm where the truck landed. Barney Trucking recovered the acid from the crashed tanker into a new tanker prior to a tow truck recovering the vehicle.

The road was closed for a time period as a heavy wrecker and crane uprighted the truck and towed it from the area. The roadway was then cleared by 10:06 a.m.