2 HERO operators hospitalized after chemical spill, I-285 reopened

All lanes of Interstate 285 were reopened in time for the morning commute after a chemical spill on Thursday afternoon.

Two Georgia Department of Transportation HERO employees responding to the spill were rushed to an area hospital.

At last report, the two employees were being treated at Grady. Their names and conditions were not immediately known.

What section of I-285 is closed due to a chemical spill?

All lanes of traffic were shut down along Interstate 285 northbound just past Langford Parkway after an acid spill.

The spill happened at around 5 p.m. Thursday.

Atlanta firefighters say about 200 gallons of sulfuric acid were spilled along the roadway.

The Perimeter was backed up all the way to the Interstate 85 interchange.

Onlooker delays were causing southbound traffic to back up to just before Cascade Road.

Vehicles stuck behind the spill are being routed off the interstate at Langford Parkway.

There have been no evacuations as a result of the spill.

This is GDOT image shows some sort of substance on I-285 northbound at Langford Parkway in Atlanta on Dec. 7, 2023.

This GDOT image shows some sort of substance on I-285 northbound at Langford Parkway in Atlanta on Dec. 7, 2023. (Georgia Department of Transportation)

What are HERO units?

Highway Emergency Response Operators, or HEROs, patrol the busy highways in and around metro Atlanta

Their goal is to ensure traffic is running smoothly by clearing crashes, helping stranded motorists, and assisting in traffic control during crashes.

HEROs might help the average driver change a flat tire, jump start a dead battery, or even provide fuel, coolant or other essential fluids to get motorists back on the road safely.

There are about 84 active operators that travel about 382 miles covering more than 30 routes.

Those routes include I-575 to the Cherokee-Pickens county line, I-75 NB to Cartersville, GA-400 to the Cumming Highway exit, I-985 to the Howard Road exit, I-85 NB to the Gwinnett-Barrow county line, U.S. 78 to the DeKalb-Gwinnett county line, I-20 EB to exit 82, I-75 SB to N, McDonough Road, I-85 SB to Bullsboro Drive, I-20 WB to the Douglas-Carroll county line, and all major state routes with that area.

HEROs have performed nearly 89,000 total personal driver assists.

The state program is public-private partnerships with sponsors helping to cover the costs.

What is sulfuric acid?

Sulfuric Acid is typically a colorless oily liquid.

It is used to make fertilizers, pigments, dyes, drugs, explosives, detergents, and inorganic salts and acids, as well as in petroleum refining and metallurgical processes.

The acid is corrosive and can cause damage to metal and flesh.

While it doesn't outright melt asphalt or concrete, it could lead to an acceleration in the deterioration of the surfaces.

There can be adverse health effects from prolonged inhalation. It can cause irritation and burns to both skin and eyes that could result in blindness. 

In small doses, it can cause irritation to the nose and throat.

It also could cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema.

It can cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting. More extreme cases of exposure can lead to permanent lung damage and damage to teeth.

Exposure depends on the strength of the acid and how long the person was exposed to it.

Treatment for exposure includes the flushing of the eyes, removing contaminated clothing and washing the skin. In more severe cases, hospitalization and medical observation of up to 48 hours may be required.