Chemical spill disrupts Lady's Island traffic

BEAUFORT -- A chemical spill in front of Beaufort Academy caused a scare Wednesday afternoon that forced authorities to keep about 200 students in the school's gymnasium and reroute traffic off a major Lady's Island thoroughfare for more than two hours.

Firefighters from the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District were called at 3:45 p.m. to Sams Point Road in front of Beaufort Academy, where Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deputies reported "about four gallons of a green, acid-like substance in the roadway," said Lee Levesque, fire district spokesman.

Levesque said four small, unmarked plastic jugs ruptured in the southbound lanes of Sams Point Road. An empty box farther down on the road labeled "Corrosive. Hydrochloric acid," suggested the substance might be the highly corrosive acid capable of causing severe burns.

"We do not know for sure that it was hydrochloric acid," he said. "Without knowing for sure what it was or wasn't, we treated it like an unknown substance, which makes us a whole lot more cautious."

Levesque said the responders don't know how the jugs wound up on the road.

Members of the Northern Beaufort County Hazardous Materials Team, a unit compromised of area firefighters and Beaufort County Sheriff's deputies, removed the liquid from the roadway and traffic was moving again about 6 p.m.

A driver went to Beaufort Memorial Hospital as a precaution after driving through the substance, Levesque said.

A half-mile stretch of Sams Point Road between Holly Hall Road and Fairfield Road was shut down, and Levesque said students at Beaufort Academy had to be moved indoors, since the unknown liquid posed "a respiratory hazard."

Students at Beaufort Academy-- including the school's football and tennis teams -- were moved into the gymnasium and kept there for about an hour, Levesque said. Students who drove themselves were then allowed to leave and other students left as their parents came to get them.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is investigating the spill.