YMCA adopts new procedures at Triangle locations after chemical spill

August 3, 2017

The Downtown Durham YMCA reopened Thursday at noon after 42 people were taken to area hospitals during a chemical spill on Wednesday afternoon.

An external disaster recovery team cleaned up the chemical residue overnight and a pool contractor began repairs Thursday morning, according to a statement from the Downtown Durham YMCA. The pool will remain closed until further notice.

“We want to maintain the highest levels of safety in the pool area,” said YMCA officials. “That’s why we’re requesting that local officials perform an additional inspection of the pool. Until that inspection is complete, the pool will remain closed.”

Fire officials said that the spill occurred as a result of a mechanical issue with the pool pump that caused the sodium hypochlorite to mix with another chemical in a way that was not intended. They said the symptoms were caused largely by fumes from the chemical mixture as opposed to exposure to the chemical in the water.

“That pump malfunctioned, which caused a spillage of one of the chemicals in the pump room itself. That chemical connected with the other chemical and caused a chemical reaction that produced the off-gassing and that caused the symptoms we saw yesterday,” said Foster Perry, regional vice president of the YMCA of the Triangle.

Officials said 40 of 100 children participating in a day camp who swam in the pool as part of their daily routine Wednesday were taken to area hospitals after complaining of breathing issues, eye irritation and vomiting. Two adults were also treated.

Six children were deemed to be in serious condition by EMS workers at the scene, but their conditions improved at area hospitals, authorities said. No children were admitted to the hospital.

According to a September 2016 inspection form from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the facility did not have a chlorine gas detector, which is not required by law. Perry said the organization is considering installing one after Wednesday’s incident.

“We always want to evaluate what we can do- extra layers of safety and support- and it certainly something we’re evaluating as we move forward,” he said.

The Downtown Durham YMCA met all county and state requirements in that September inspection, according to a statement from the organization.

The organization will also add an additional daily internal check of chemicals and pump rooms at all YMCA of the Triangle pools going forward. Chlorine and pH levels at all pools will also be checked more frequently.

“We’re also asking aquatics staff to be more attentive to sounds, smells or anything out of the ordinary,” the YMCA of the Triangle said in a statement Thursday.

According to the Perry, the pool’s certified operator checks the pump room twice daily and the pool where the chemical spill occurred had been inspected at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“There was not an issue at that point yesterday morning,” he said. “We’ve narrowed down the window from late morning to early afternoon, so it was within a few hours it was caught. Their morning check did not detect anything out of the normal.”

Pool equipment at all YMCA of the Triangle locations will be checked, Perry said.

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.

In the first 911 call regarding the incident, the caller tells a dispatcher that a 33-year-old lifeguard was having breathing trouble and was sweating. The caller also said the lifeguard noticed a “strong smell of chlorine.”

Parents said that the camp was a seven-week program and is scheduled to end Friday. According to the Y, more children actually attended camp Thursday than on Wednesday.

Lionel McCullough Jr. said he sent his children back to camp because he understands that accidents happen and believes the YMCA handled the situation appropriately.

“I think they did an excellent job of responding and notifying all the parents and they did the best they could with a chaotic situation because when I got here yesterday, it was out of control. I think the EMT, sheriff’s department, fire department, I think everyone did an excellent job,” he said.

McCullough said his children were a bit shaken up by the experience, but were doing fine.