This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A railway tanker that ruptured and spilled its toxic contents in South Salt Lake was carrying only about 800 gallons of the chemical it was designed to transport.
It was carrying a few times that amount of other chemicals - including at least one that the tanker's owner claims may have eaten through the tank's protective lining.
A federal investigation is under way. And the involved companies are scrambling to explain what happened - and to divert blame for the bumble that sent 6,000 residents packing and halted traffic on the state's busiest highway.
But as the fingers point, local officials say they know one thing is certain: The car's manifest, which is supposed to travel with the tanker and detail its contents, did not account for every chemical inside. And that was one big reason it took so long to determine how to respond to the crisis and keep firefighters and the public safe.
"Those manifests are supposed to be dead-on accurate," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote. "That was not the case."
The tanker's owner, Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., contends the car should only have been holding one chemical: sulfuric acid.
The Salt Lake Valley Health Department determined Monday that the tank also contained at least six others, including hydrofluoric acid - which Kennecott officials believe could have corroded the protective coating inside the tanker.
Officials from the company believed to have filled the tanker, Houston-based Philip Services Corp., claim the rail car was properly loaded and labeled for shipment when it left their command in Fernley, Nev., near Reno. And the company says the car's manifest - which was signed by a representative of Union Pacific - notes the tanker was being used to transport sulfuric and hydrofluoric acids.
Philip Services officials call the 12,500-gallon concoction a "waste corrosive liquid" - a mix of acids and water - and say the mixture's contents comply with the terms of their contract to use the Kennecott tanker.
The chemical cocktail was funneled into the tanker car, 4,000 gallons at a time, on Feb. 14, 15 and 16, according to Morris Azose, vice president of Philip Services' environmental division.
"At the time that was done, we noted nothing that was unique or problematic with either the acid or the rail car or anything about the load operation," he said.
A Kennecott spokesman pointed out that the tanker is clearly labeled for sulfuric acid use only.
Three tankers were leased by Philip Services in mid-February, according to Kennecott. All were destined for disposal at Vickery Environmental in Sandusky County, Ohio.
The manifest of the tanker that spilled in South Salt Lake was signed by Philip Services and Union Pacific on Feb. 17.
Two of the cars arrived at a rail yard in Toledo, Ohio, last week. It was unclear what was in those cars, as the information, which reportedly have been embargoed at Kennecott's request.
Had the cars not been stopped, their contents would have been transferred into trucks for the 50-mile trek to Vickery, according to Sandusky County Sheriff David Gangwer. Officials from Vickery Environmental said they were unaware of any problems with the other two tankers as of Monday afternoon.
Union Pacific apparently misrouted the third car, which wound up on Kennecott property around the first of the month, according to Kennecott spokesman Louie Cononelos.
"The tank car was returned full, not empty, and, therefore, within about a two-hour period, it was returned to Union Pacific," Cononelos said.
By March 2, the tanker was sitting in South Salt Lake's Roper Train Yard, according to Union Pacific.
Then, early Sunday morning, yard workers noticed acid bubbling from three holes in the tanker. It wasn't until late Sunday, however, that emergency officials felt they had a grasp on what was in the tanker and what should be done.
By that time, Interstate 15 had been closed as a precaution for several hours, and upwards of 6,000 nearby residents were evacuated from their homes as a plume of orange fumes rose above the city. Emergency officials blamed the lack of accurate documentation as one of many factors inhibiting a quick resolution to the problem.
Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flatau said his agency will conduct an "extremely comprehensive" investigation, paying special attention to whether federal regulations governing the transportation of hazardous materials were followed.
Under federal code, the administration could issue civil fines to shippers or railways that fail to properly identify and transport dangerous chemicals. Three of the involved companies - Kennecott, Philip Services and Union Pacific railroad - say they are conducting separate investigations.