YMCA: Chemical Leak Sends 40 Children To Hospitals


A chemical leak in the pool area of the Downtown Durham YMCA.

Forty-two people were taken to area hospitals after a chemical spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Jennifer Nelson, Associate Vice President of Communications for the YMCA of the Triangle, a lifeguard noticed a strong chemical odor near the indoor pool pump room Wednesday afternoon.The YMCA immediately contacted EMS, who contacted the Durham Fire Department, which declared a hazmat situation at about 2:45 p.m.

“We ended up with 11 units from the Durham Fire Department on the scene, about 25 of our firefighters, including the hazmat team,” said Daniel Curia with the City of Durham Fire Department.

Authorities said the chemical was sodium hypochlorite, not chlorine as the Durham Fire Department initially stated. Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical used for everyday upkeep of swimming pools, authorities said.

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According to Nelson, about 100 campers swam in the pool as part of their daily routine Wednesday before being taken back to their camp at Club Boulevard Elementary School.

At about 3 p.m., some children began complaining of breathing issues and staff members contacted EMS and parents, Nelson 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,” said 9-year-old camper Kamali Siler.

According to Wil Glenn with the City of Durham, 40 children between the ages of 6 and 12 and two adults were taken to either Duke Hospital or Duke Regional Hospital.

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Six children were deemed to be in serious condition by EMS workers at the scene, but their conditions improved at area hospitals, authorities said.

“It’s really scary because that is my only child,” said parent Raquel Adams.

By Wednesday night, nearly all the children had been treated and released, officials said. One person from a building adjacent to the YMCA was also treated at a local hospital.

Siler said that children began feeling sick while at the pool, but they were not put on ambulances until they arrived back at the school. Every child was given a colored wristband to indicate to counselors how severe their symptoms were, she said.

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“I felt lightheaded with my throat hurting,” Siler said of her symptoms before she was taken to the hospital via ambulance. “I fell really good now. We had popsicles and played games while we waited for our parents [in the hospital].”

According to WRAL’s Dr. Allen Mask, side effects of exposure to the chemical include blurry vision and watery eyes as well as coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, nausea and vomiting.


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