Reports of a possible chlorine leak closed the city pool in Shawnee on Saturday, but city officials later said no leak was found.
People who were at the Thomas A. Soetaert Aquatic Center Saturday afternoon complained of a strong odor of chlorine. Shawnee Fire Marshal Corey Sands said hazardous materials crews were called in because of reports of a juvenile having difficulty breathing, but testing found no evidence of chlorine in the air.
“It looks like there was just the chlorine in the water,” Sands said. “People were smelling it and just out of precaution they shut it down.”
Sands confirmed a Tweet from the City of Shawnee that said that emergency crews had treated 15 people for possible chlorine poisoning and that two had been taken to a hospital “for observation.”
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Sands said the two hospitalized were both lifeguards.
“Out of precaution we went ahead and sent them to the hospital just for evaluation,” Sands said. “I think they were fine.”
The city later posted on Facebook that “chlorinators were oxidizing in one area of the Aquatic Center. That is what caused breathing irritation.” Chlorine levels in the water were safe, the city’s post said, and the pool would reopen at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Shawnee resident Tara Debaene said she was at the pool with her son Saturday when the incident happened.
She said she was swimming laps with some of the other regulars when her son came over from the “lazy river” area complaining about a strong smell that others had also begun to notice by then.
“The chlorine was so bad, he said, ‘Mom there’s a lifeguard over there coughing,’” Debaene said.
Shortly after that she said she saw emergency vehicles pulling up and some of the pool staff said they were going to test the air quality. By then, more people were coughing.
“None of the lifeguards and police officers were wearing masks, but you could smell it getting worse,” Debaene said. “It was just progressing.”
Shortly after that hazardous materials specialists arrived and donned face masks, she said.
Debaene estimated that there were about 100 people at the pool when officials decided to evacuate everyone. They were told they could either go home or go to a nearby civic center and wait.
Exposure to excessive chlorine, either in the air or water, can cause breathing problems, especially in people who are medically fragile.
Debaene said one of her friend’s children, who has asthma, was among those treated at the scene. She didn’t know any of the others, but said she thought they were mostly children.
Debaene said she still had a headache almost an hour after leaving the pool. But otherwise she and her son were fine and she wasn’t blaming anyone for the incident.
“We know things happen,” Debaene said. “We just hope everyone is OK.”
Sands said the person who called authorities did the right thing and that the response, which included multiple city and county agencies, was justified, even if it turned out to not be serious.
“It sounded a lot more exciting than it ended up being,” Sands said. “Which is good.”