A mile-long stretch of the northbound San Diego Freeway in the San Fernando Valley was reopened to traffic shortly before 5 a.m. Saturday, almost 17 hours after it was closed because a bag containing asbestos fell off a flatbed truck and spilled onto the roadway.
Traffic was backed up for several miles and surface streets were more congested than usual during the afternoon rush hour Friday, but officials reported no other problems associated with the freeway's closure.
"We rerouted traffic off the freeway at Sherman Way, but after that people were on their own," said California Highway Patrol Officer Andy Gutierrez. "Motorists seemed to do a good job of finding other ways home."
At its peak, traffic was backed up past Mulholland Drive and into West Los Angeles. Traffic on southbound lanes also slowed to a crawl.
The spill occurred shortly after noon just north of the Sherman Way exit in Van Nuys. Authorities closed all four northbound lanes of the freeway at 12:20 p.m. to prevent cars from stirring up the asbestos-sawdust mixture. The material had been contained in a 500-pound plastic bag that fell from a box on the truck and split open on the highway.
Cleanup crews using high-powered water hoses and vacuums worked through the night to clean up the spill. They also used hand scrapers to remove dried asbestos from pavement grooves. The freeway was reopened at 4:48 a.m.
Asbestos fibers can cause cancer when breathed if they become lodged in the lungs, but hazardous-materials officials said the spill did not pose a serious health threat because the dust had been soaked with water before being transported. In addition, only about 75 to 80 pounds of the dust that spilled was asbestos, authorities said.