Delaware Memorial Bridge reopens: Chemical leak 'could have been catastrophic'

A Delaware bridge shut down in both directions by a gas leak Sunday evening, bringing traffic on a major East Coast artery to a standstill on one of the busiest travel days of the year, has reopened.

The Delaware Department of Transportation tweeted late Sunday that the Delaware Memorial Bridge was "REOPENED to traffic" and urged travelers to drive safely.

The leak stemmed from Croda Atlas Point, a chemical production plant located in New Castle.

A fire company official working the chemical leak that forced the ridge to shut down says if the flume "would have had an ignition source it could have been catastrophic."

Holloway Terrace Fire Company Public Information Officer George Greenley says the leaked chemical is ethylene oxide, a highly flammable gas that is a finished product stemming from methanol.

Greenley says the cloud of chemical gas was "of such magnitude that it easily could have" reached the bridge.

The bridge closed around 5 p.m. Sunday. Croda operators requested it be shut down, the Delaware River and Bay Authority tweeted.

Greenley said fire officials were waiting for pressure to dissipate in the pipes at the facility before reopening the bridge. He said earlier Sunday that the chemical was dissipating fairly quickly from the pipes and estimated the bridge could reopen in the next few hours. The state Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control was also on scene at the leak.

Traffic on both sides of the bridge was being diverted to other crossings, including the Commodore Barry Bridge to the north, causing what the authority called a "parking lot" situation to disperse to other clogged roadways.

The bridge carries Interstate 295 on eight lanes over the wide southern reaches of the Delaware River between northern Delaware and southern New Jersey. Southbound traffic from the New Jersey Turnpike also flows across it. More than 80,000 vehicles make the crossing daily, according to the authority.