Chemical leak at YMCA pool in NC sends scores of children to hospital

Chemical leak at YMCA pool in NC sends scores of children to hospital
A chemical leak at the YMCA facility pool in North Carolina has sent 43 people, including 40 children between the ages of six and 12, to hospital. Six of the children were reported as being in a serious but non-life-threatening condition.

The Downtown YMCA in Durham reported a leak of sodium hypochlorite in their swimming pool. The chemical is commonly used as a disinfectant. Durham County spokeswoman, Dawn Dudley, said the chemical is used for “everyday maintenance” of swimming pools, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Dudley said 39 people were in the pool at the time of the leak. The children were taken to Duke University Hospital or Duke Regional Hospital. The six who were listed as being in a critical condition were taken to a local hospital, police spokesman Wil Glenn said.

“Thirty-four additional children and two adults were transported with non-serious injuries,” he added.

One other person was taken to a local hospital several hours later after reporting similar symptoms as the children, Brandon Mitchell, Durham County Emergency Medical Assistant Chief, said. The individual was reportedly outside the facility at the time of the spill and inhaled some of the noxious gas, the Observer reported.

The facility was evacuated and YMCA staff said campers from the YMCA were transported to Club Boulevard Elementary School. Glenn has since confirmed that the Durham Fire Department has launched an investigation at the facility. Hazmat personnel were seen suiting up before making their entrance into the building.

By Wednesday night nearly all of the children had been treated and released from hospital, according to WRAL.

The people affected by the chemical leak experienced symptoms such as vomiting, respiratory problems and eye and skin irritations, Glenn said.

The facility closed a little before 3pm after the spill happened. The YMCA initially reported mechanical issues as the reason for the early closure.

Fire officials have since reported that the spill was, in fact, caused by a mechanical issue which led to the sodium hypochlorite to mix with another chemical in a way that it is not supposed to.

The fire officials said it was the mixture of the fumes from the chemicals that caused the symptoms, not the chemicals that mixed in the water, WRAL reported.

“Some sort of mechanical issue, whether it’s a pinhole in the tubing or the piping that goes to the chemicals or maybe one of the seals on tops of the vats was not properly sealed, But, it appears it leaked out and caused that issue,” Willie Hall of the Durham Fire Department said.

“Everybody came out coughing, choking, spitting up and then they told everybody to get out of the pool and then once everybody was out they were choking and spitting up,” recalled nine-year-old camper Kamali Siler, who was one of the children taken to hospital and subsequently released. "I felt lightheaded with my throat hurting,” she said.

“There were no kind of chemical burns or nothing like that. It was all mainly coughing and one or two maybe vomiting,” Abdul Siler, Kamali’s father explained.  

An official for the YMCA’s Camp High Hopes, Patrice Johnson, said children from that particular camp had been swimming in the Downtown YMCA pool earlier in the day but had left before the spill started.

The YMCA said in a statement they would reassess the situation Thursday to determine whether opening the building would be safe or not.

Many people who were inside the facility when the spill occurred were waiting for hours outside the facility Wednesday, hoping to retrieve their belongings.