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Alberta highway to remain closed for days after oily substance leaves road dangerously slick

The tires of a RCMP vehicle that went into the ditch Thursday following a highway spill appears caked with oily sludge.  (Alberta RCMP - image credit)
The tires of a RCMP vehicle that went into the ditch Thursday following a highway spill appears caked with oily sludge. (Alberta RCMP - image credit)

Four days after a truck spilled an oily substance over about 40 kilometres of central Alberta highway, the stretch of road coated by the industrial muck remains impassable.

As of Monday morning, Highway 20 between Township Road 470 and Highway 39 southwest of Edmonton remains closed and is expected to remain so for days.

Highway 39 at the spill site is only open to one lane of alternating traffic as crews continue to vacuum an oily substance off the asphalt.

There is no timeline for when cleanup on the stretch of highway in Brazeau, Leduc and Wetaskiwin counties will be complete, RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said Monday.

"It's still anticipated to be quite some time – days, in fact, before the highways will be opened back up," Savinkoff said.

"It appears it's a very difficult substance to remove to make the highway safe again for users.

"It's an extremely, extremely slippery substance as well."

'It was so slick'

The mess began on Thursday evening after a tanker truck passing through the Breton area began to spill vacuum gas oil, or VGO, Savinkoff said.

A leftover from the distillation process in refineries, the oil can be upgraded to gasoline or diesel, and is known for its lubricating properties.

The tanker driver, a 55-year-old man from Rocky Mountain House, has been charged with failing to prevent the leak and failing to provide necessary records during an inspection.

Several vehicles went into the ditch before blockades were set up around the spill site, Savinkoff said.

A photograph of an RCMP vehicle that went into the ditch shows its tires caked with a thick yellow sludge.

No injuries were reported in the incident.

Coby Lafreniere was caught in the muck on his drive home from work on Thursday.

As he made his way from Rimbey en route to Leduc, he realized the road was coated with more than the usual snow and ice.

He said he struggled to keep his truck on the road.

"There was oil all over the highway," he said. "It was terrible."

Lafreniere said his truck was coated by the time he made it home. He said he felt like he was offroading through deep mud.

"The car in front of me, we were going about 30 km/h and he couldn't keep it on the road. He was all over the place because it was so slick."

In an update to social media Sunday, officials with the Village of Breton said cleanup crews are working around the clock sanding the spill, scouring the highway and scrubbing vehicles.

Cleanup continues along a stretch of highway in central Alberta after a spill Thursday.
Cleanup continues along a stretch of highway in central Alberta after a spill Thursday.

Cleanup continues along a stretch of highway in central Alberta after a spill Thursday. (Shelby Livestock/Facebook)

A special washing station has been set up for vehicles that drove through the spill. Drivers have been lining up all weekend to book appointments, Breton officials said.

It's taking about an hour to clean most vehicles but some need up to three hours to clean, the town said.

In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment said an environmental consultant has been monitoring the spill site and no impacts to any waterbodies have been reported.

The material spilled is not regulated under the Dangerous Goods Act and does not pose an environmental safety hazard, the province said.

"We will continue to closely monitor the area and work with the local officials as we continue the clean-up."

Vacuum trucks have been called in to clean the highway. Crews are walking the ditches and shovelling out any contaminated snow.

The village said two environmental firms have also been hired to do testing along the highway.

"Thankfully the snow seems to be solidifying the VGO and preventing it from getting into the ground even with the temperatures the last few days," the village said.

"Seeing the resources and incredible coordination happening on this clean up is very reassuring that they aren't rushing to just be done with it."