Kingston General Hospital says one person has died following a massive, 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 east of the city that spilled a toxic substance at the scene. 

The afternoon pileup closed the highway in both directions and forced motorists to evacuate from the area.

In a statement Tuesday evening, the Kingston hospital said it received 29 patients from the crash scene, including 13 first responders who underwent decontamination and were held for observation as a precaution. Some of the patients have already been released. 

The OPP said a male driver of one of the tractor-trailers involved in the crash died as a result of his injuries. 

The hazardous material unit was called in because some of the tractor-trailers involved in the crash were carrying caustic materials, later identified as fluorosilicic acid, according to the hospital.

"Exposure to the chemical could cause irritation to the nose, throat, respiratory system, irritation, redness or swelling of the skin and severe eye irritation," the statement said.

The flood of patients has diminished and the hospital declared a code orange over at 8 p.m. ET. According to the Ontario Hospital Association, code orange is used in the event of an external disaster resulting in a surge of casualties seeking care at a hospital urgent or emergency department.

Highway 401 collision

Emergency crews work to clean up a toxic spill on Highway 401 east of Kingston, Ont., following multiple crashes Tuesday involving about 30 vehicles, many of them tractor-trailers. (XBR Traffic)

"One of the involved transports is leaking a toxic substance, as a precaution the area is being evacuated," said Const. Sandra Barr in a news release. "Both east and westbound 401 will be closed to allow for the investigation. Detours have been set up."

The eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 401 remain closed from Reynolds Road to Mallorytown Road.

Barr told CBC News some first responders were exposed to the chemical while coming to the aid of the driver of a transport truck, who was taken to hospital for his injuries.

"The five firefighters, for sure, were involved in trying to rescue this driver who was in his transport, and the three police officers as well," she said.

Medical attention required

The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, where the crash occurred, said in a statement that the site has been contained.

"All vehicles have been rerouted and all persons with potential chemical exposure having been transported for medical attention. No residential properties were affected and there is no risk to the general public," a spokesperson for the township wrote at 5:15 p.m. on the municipality's Facebook page.

Road closures Highway 401 spill

Police closed Highway 401 between Reynolds Road and Mallorytown Road after one of the tractor-trailers leaked a toxic substance. Motorists were asked to stay inside their vehicles. (CBC)

"The Ministry of the Environment has been notified and cleanup crews have arrived on site to remediate the area from the chemical spill."

Police described conditions on the highway as "near whiteout" when the crash occurred around 2 p.m. ET.

Gananoque police posted a message on their Facebook page saying that according to the Leeds Fire Department, the hazardous material that leaked turns into hydrofluoric acid if exposed to heat.

401 crash

Police evacuated the area as a precaution after the chemical spill. Several first responders were exposed and needed to be decontaminated. (XBR Traffic)

"Hydrofluoric acid is a highly toxic, highly corrosive and poisonous solution which is harmful to skin, lungs and eyes." 

Decontamination bay

Kingston General Hospital set up a decontamination bay for patients, according to spokesperson John Pereira.

Non-critical emergency patients were rerouted to Hotel Dieu Hospital, also in Kingston, said Pereira.

Police asked motorists at the scene to stay in their vehicles while emergency crews carried out their work.

Emergency responders from the surrounding area, including Ottawa fire services, were at the scene.

About 30 vehicles, mostly tractor-trailers, were involved in the crash, according to Acting Sgt. Angie Atkinson.

Crash details

There were two separate collisions Tuesday on the westbound 401, followed by a third reported collision in the eastbound lanes in the same stretch of roadway, according to the OPP.

In the first collision, five tractor-trailers collided with a car just east of Highway 137. Approximately one kilometre east of that collision, seven tractor-trailors crashed into three other vehicles, setting off multiple chain reactions involving other motorists. 

The third collision involved three other tractor-trailers, the OPP said.

Highway 401 tractor-trailer collision0:22

Video courtesy Dave Somerville.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said some of the Highway 401 crashes occurred on Highway 417. In fact, all of the crashes mentioned in this story occurred on Highway 401.
    Mar 15, 2017 6:23 AM ET