Worker, children hurt after chlorine leak at pool

Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A maintenance worker was critically injured and dozens of children were hurt Friday afternoon by an accidental release of chlorine gas at the Alaska Pacific University campus swimming pool.

The release occurred in an auxiliary room at the Moseley Sports Center.

Up to 60 children and adults were quickly evacuated, a few of them vomiting, spitting and in tears. More than 30 were taken to hospitals by ambulance or private vehicle, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton.

In most cases the injuries were minor and the victims were treated for irritations of the nose and throat and released, the agency said.

Paul Easley, the maintenance worker, was reported in critical condition Friday night at Providence Alaska Medical Center, said spokeswoman Karina Jennings. He was transferred to Alaska Regional Hospital and reported in stable condition Saturday.

Three others admitted were in serious condition and two were in fair condition, Jennings said. She declined to give the names or ages of the other victims.

One child was admitted to Alaska Regional Hospital and eight were admitted to the Alaska Native Medical Center, nursing supervisors said.

The incident occurred about 4:15 p.m. as members of the Alaska Pacific Swim Club were beginning a practice session. The swim club, which has no connection to the university, is an after-school program for school-age kids.

Chlorine is a poisonous, greenish-yellow gas with a strong odor. It's commonly concentrated into liquid or powder form and then carefully mixed with water to kill bacteria and other impurities in pools and spas. Common bleach is made from a chlorine solution.

Even at small concentrations, chlorine gas can be dangerous. Exposure to small amounts can irritate mucous membranes, the respiratory system and skin. At high concentrations, the gas can cause chest pain and difficulty breathing.

According to the fire department, a maintenance worker poured muriatic acid into a 30-gallon container that already held chlorine. Muriatic acid is another name for the sterilizing agent hydrochloric acid.

''There was only a small amount of chlorine solution in this vessel; it was low, and he was adding more to it,'' Kempton said. ''Instead of adding more chlorine to it, he inadvertently added muriatic acid.''

In an interview with KTUU-TV on Saturday, Easley denied being the maintenance worker who mixed the chemicals and reacted angrily to reports that he had.

''Being told that I'm to blame for something, when I didn't even touch anything, or do anything wrong, yea, I was furious,'' he said.

He said another employee using a pump caused the accident.

APU President Douglas North told KTUU Saturday he was not sure what happened to cause the chemical reaction and the release of chlorine gas, Kempton said.

Easley warned people to get out of the building but returned to see if he could contain the reaction, North said.

Kurt Brownsberger, a coach for the swim club, which rents time at the Moseley center, said as many as 60 people were in the pool, on the deck and in the lockers.

The Fire Department said the gas was removed from the building by 6:20 p.m.



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