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Hwy. 53 now reopened after hazardous material spill
A mini-pumper transport vehicle carrying 6,000 pounds of a petroleum-based ammonium nitrate, a substance used in rock quarries, was involved in a four-vehicle accident on Hwy. 53 E near Dawson Forest Road and Blue Ridge Overlook on Sept. 10. No serious injuries were reported from the incident. - Photo courtesy of Dawson County Fire/EMS

Hwy. 53 East at Dawson Forest Road and Blue Ridge Overlook is now reopened according to the Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services Facebook page. The road reopened around 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon after local, state and private agencies responded to an early morning accident involving a multi-vehicle accident involving a spill of hazardous material. 

Dawson County Emergency Services Director and Fire Chief Danny Thompson said at 5:13 a.m. Fire Station No. 2 units were dispatched to a multivehicle accident on Hwy. 53, about an eighth of a mile east of Dawson Forest Road.

Fire and emergency personnel arrived on scene at 5:20 a.m. and observed three passenger vehicles and one 6,000 pound mini-pumper transport vehicle on its side laying on Hwy. 53, Thompson said during a press conference Sept. 10.

At 5:23 a.m., crews on the scene determined they were dealing with a petroleum-based ammonium nitrate product, known as Hydromite Advance 120, and called for a remediation hazmat company, Hepco, to assist with the incident.

The petroleum-based ammonium nitrate is a product commonly used in mining and rock quarries and has a consistency similar to Vaseline, Thompson said.  

Upon initial reports and social media speculation that alluded to a spill of dynamite on the road, Thompson said the substance is not dynamite, nor is it an explosive in and of itself.

“This product is actually used in lieu of dynamite and has been for about the last 15 to 20 years because it’s very safe in transportation,” Thompson said. “The product in and of itself on the ground will not catch fire so you’ve got to have some type of third party ignition source to make that happen.”

For it to become explosive, ammonium nitrate typically requires a one pound cast booster blasting cap. Companies will drill a hole, pack it with ammonium nitrate and apply the one pound cast booster to detonate it, Thompson said.

Thompson reported that five gallons of the ammonium nitrate spilled onto the roadway, and the remainder of the product has been contained. It is estimated that the vehicle was carrying 6,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate that was being transported to a location in Marble Hill in Pickens County.

No serious injuries were reported in the incident. Two men, one being the driver of the truck, were transported to Northeast Georgia in Gainesville for minor injuries while two women refused medical transport.

Thompson also confirmed that the ammonium nitrate has not spilled into any waterways including Lake Lanier.

Dawson County Emergency Services maintained a 330 feet isolation area and issued a shelter in place for the Sundown subdivision, the neighborhood within the isolation area.

Thompson encouraged homeowners to stay put as crews worked to get the roadway opened in the mid afternoon.

Thompson anticipated no incident to get the truck up-righted. After it has been up-righted, the hazmat remediation team will conduct a secondary assessment on the vehicle and its contents. If determined to be safe for transporting, the team will follow the vehicle to its final transport location.

Forsyth County fire personnel and hazmat team, Georgia State Patrol, GEMA, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and Hepco were on the scene to assist Dawson County Emergency Services.

The incident is still under investigation through Georgia State Patrol and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Georgia Department of Public Safety.