Semi Crash on Highway 199 Spills Tar into the Smith River

Photo: Six Rivers National Forest

On Thursday afternoon, a semi truck hauling 2,000 gallons of tar overturned on Highway 199 in the Six Rivers National Forest, spilling the tar onto the roadway and eventually into the nearby Smith River.

The spill will likely cause damage to the Smith River ecosystem, but according to national forest officials, it may not be as bad as it initially seemed.

“While the entrance of any foreign substance into a waterway can cause harm to habitat, this trailer was filled with hot asphalt binder,” wrote the Six Rivers National Forest on Facebook. “Asphalt binder turns into a solid substance once the temperature reaches about 100-125 degrees which means the material turned into a solid once it hit the river.”

Photo: Six Rivers National Forest

This is just the most recent example of toxic spills into Northern California waterways. In January 2022, a truck overturned in downtown Redding, sending fuel into the Sacramento River and killing fish species. The most tragic of these events was the Cantara Loop chemical spill on the upper Sacramento River in 1991, which killed more than a million fish and thousands of trees.

Highway 199 remains closed in both directions from Hardscrabble Creek to Hiouchi, according to Caltrans. “There is currently no estimated time of reopening.”

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