Freeway Opens 31 Hours After Sulfur Spill

Times Staff Writer

Thirty-one hours after being closed by a freakish spill of nearly 25 tons of molten sulfur, all five northbound lanes of the heavily traveled San Diego Freeway were reopened to traffic Wednesday morning.

The accident, in which the sulfur spilled onto the northbound lanes and caught fire, caused the evacuation of 1,000 Culver City residents and created an enormous traffic jam that spread to other freeways and streets.

A Caltrans spokeswoman said Lanes 1 and 2 were opened at 9 p.m. Tuesday; Lane 3 at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday; Lane 4 at 7:45 a.m. and Lane 5 at 11:20 a.m.

Larry Boyle, operations manager of Crosby and Overton Environmental Management Inc., one of three private firms called in by Caltrans to clean up the spill, said that while the job was not technically difficult, it was time-consuming.


He said the sulfur filled the two-inch deep grooves cut into the freeway’s surface to prevent “planing” during wet weather. After the fires spread by the sulfur were extinguished, the material cooled and slowly changed form.

“Basically what you had was (at first) hot taffy, and then ‘frozen’ taffy, very slippery and very dangerous,” Boyle said. “If you hit it at 50 m.p.h. you probably would lose traction and if you made any change of direction, you would go into a skid.”

He said hydraulic blasting equipment, with water pumped out at a pressure of about 3,000 pounds per square inch, was required to remove the material from the groves.

Caltrans spokeswoman Margie Tiritilli estimated the cleanup costs at between $80,000 and $100,000. She said it has not been determined whether the Bakersfield trucking firm that owned the truck was at fault. If it is found to be responsible, she said, the company must reimburse Caltrans.