Firefighters suit up to enter downtown Durham YMCA

Video: Firefighters Jason King and Bramwell Tong prepare to enter the Downtown Durham YMCA to test the air for contaminants. A police officer at the scene said the issue was a chlorine spill, affecting a combination of adults and children (35-40)
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Video: Firefighters Jason King and Bramwell Tong prepare to enter the Downtown Durham YMCA to test the air for contaminants. A police officer at the scene said the issue was a chlorine spill, affecting a combination of adults and children (35-40)
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Durham County

40 children among 43 hurt, 6 seriously, in chemical leak at Downtown YMCA

By Joe Johnson

jjohnson@heraldsun.com

By Colin Warren-Hicks

cwarrenhicks@heraldsun.com

August 02, 2017 03:49 PM

DURHAM

Forty-three people — 40 of them children between the ages of 6 and 12 — were taken to hospitals Wednesday after a noxious spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA. Six of those injured, all of them children, were reported to be in serious but “non-life-threatening” condition.

The Downtown Y closed shortly before 3 p.m. after a sodium hypochlorite spill at its indoor pool.

Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical commonly used as a disinfectant. Durham County spokeswoman Dawn Dudley said the substance is used for the “everyday maintenance” of swimming pools.

In its initial report of the incident, the YMCA cited mechanical issues as the reason behind its early closure.

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Thirty-nine people were actually in the pool at the time of the reported leak, Dudley said.

The victims were transported to Duke University Hospital or Duke Regional Hospital.

Six children were transported to a local hospital in serious condition, police spokesman Wil Glenn said, “Thirty-four additional children and two adults were transported with non-serious injuries.”

One more individual was transported to a local hospital several hours later after they experienced symptoms similar to those affecting the children, said Durham County Emergency Medical Services Assistant Chief Brandon Mitchell. The individual was outside of the Downtown Y near the time of the spill and is believed to have inhaled some of the noxious gas.

The victims of the chemical spill exhibited symptoms that included vomiting, respiratory illness, and skin and eye irritation, Glenn said.

The Downtown Y was evacuated, and YMCA Summer Camp staff said campers from the facility were transported to Club Boulevard Elementary School.

The Durham Fire Department set up a command center on Foster Street between West Morgan and West Seminary streets. That part of the street was closed. More streets were later closed around the area on Foster from Morgan to Corporation; on Seminary from Foster to Rigsbee; and on Rigsbee from Seminary to Morgan.

Two lanes on Morgan Street remained open.

Glenn confirmed that the Durham Fire Department was investigating the incident. Fire Department Hazmat personnel were seen suiting up before entering the building.

43 people — 40 of them children — were taken to hospitals Wednesday afternoon after a noxious spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA. Six of those injured, all children, were initially in serious but “non-life-threatening” condition.

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Patrice Johnson, a camp official with YMCA’s Camp High Hopes, said children from that camp were not involved in the accident. She said High Hopes campers had been swimming at the Downtown Y Wednesday, but were long gone before the spill occurred.

A press release from the YMCA of the Triangle late Wednesday afternoon said there was no timeline for the Downtown Y facility to reopen. It stated the staff was working to identify and repair the issue.

The three other Durham YMCA locations were not affected by the closure and remained open.

This is not the first incident of its kind in Durham. Most recently, first responders were called to Hollow Rock Country Club, 5100 Erwin Road, on July 14 at 3:51 p.m. after 100 gallons of hypocholorite spilled.

The Hollow Rock spill was contained and no environmental damage was reported from that chemical release.

This is a developing story. Check back for more information.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6889