DURHAM, N.C. — Forty people were taken to area hospitals after a chemical spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA on Wednesday afternoon, according to WRAL.
According to Jennifer Nelson with 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.
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.
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.
Six children were in serious, but non-life threatening, condition as a result of the spill, authorities said. Several other children were being monitored as a precaution, Nelson said.
Duke Hospital said they evaluated about 30 of those effected by the spill. None were in serious condition and none needed to be admitted to the hospital, they said.
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.
“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.
Glenn said those taken from the YMCA to area hospitals were exhibiting symptoms that included vomiting, respiratory illness and skin and eye irritation.
“There were no kind of chemical burns or nothing like that. It was all mainly coughing and one or two maybe vomiting,” said Siler’s father, Adul Siler.
Abdul said his daughter was discharged for the hospital with only a prescription for Flonase, for sinus irritation.
Long term exposure could result in chronic conjunctivitis and pulmonary edema- a build up of fluid in the lungs.
A hazmat team on the scene was in the process of determining what caused the spill and what steps need to be done to mitigate the situation, according to the Durham Fire Department.
According to the City of Durham, Foster Street was closed from Morgan Street to Corporation Street, Seminary Avenue was closed between Foster Street and Rigsbee Avenue and Rigsbee Avenue was closed from Seminary Avenue to Morgan Street as crews worked at the scene.
“I went to pick up my other daughter from Club Boulevard and they shut down the whole street to let the ambulances in,” Abdul Siler said.
The YMCA recommended that people call before coming for their workout, or visit one of the other three Durham locations at the American Tobacco Campus, Hope Valley Farms YMCA or the Lakewood YMCA.
There was no timeline for the facility re-opening.