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Pleasant Grove officials speak up after chlorine exposure at pool

Relaxed restrictions during the Yellow Phase permit group swimming, with social distancing guidelines in place. Photo: Utah Department of Health

A day after visitors to a public pool in Pleasant Grove were accidentally exposed to high levels of chlorine, city officials are talking about what they’re doing to make sure that never happens again.

A pump malfunction put the high levels of chlorine into the pool Tuesday. Nearly fifty people, mostly children, suffered from breathing problems due to inhaling the chlorine gas. About half of those sickened went to the hospital for treatment. All are expected to recover.

Chlorine gas exposure

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to high levels of chlorine can cause blurred vision, burning pain. Chlorine gas may cause redness and blisters on the skin. Other signs of exposure include a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes. Chlorine gas can cause coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath.

On Dave & Dujanovic Wednesday, Pleasant Grove City Administrator Scott Darrington said Utah County Health inspectors are on site to address the problem. The company that is contracted to maintain certain pool equipment related to the chlorine gas problem is also at the pool.

The cause of the chlorine gas exposure appears to be a mechanical failure, not human error, Darrington says. When the pump malfunctioned, it was restarted, then pumped excessive amounts of chlorine into the system, Darrington explains.

“We had a health inspection about two weeks ago before we opened . . . We didn’t foresee that we had any sort of failure coming our way,” Darrington says.

The pool staff tests the water every other hour, he says. Also, he adds, every hour the mechanical side is tested to make sure the chemicals are mixed into the water at correct levels.

Chemical injectors must be inspected and sensor probes cleaned at least weekly unless manufacturer guidelines say otherwise.

What parents can do

Debbie Dujanovic, co-host of Dave & Dujanovic, said she can anticipate that parents might be skittish to bring their kids to the affected pool after the chlorine incident.

Darrington responded to this concern by saying that parents who purchased a summer swim pass can get a refund.

Co-host Dave Noriega says the Pleasant Grove recorder is the city staff member who parents should reach out to file a claim.

The city carries insurance to cover this type of issue, Noriega says.

Dave and Dujanovic react

The bubbling up of chlorine gas would scare just about any parent, Dujanovic says.

She describes how she would react to what happened at the public pool in Pleasant Grove.

“My heart would sink and I would be screaming, ‘Run! Run for your lives!” she says.

“I can’t imagine what those families in Pleasant Grove were going through [on Tuesday] when that pump malfunctioned at the pool,” she adds.

Such a frightening moment has never entered Noriega’s mind.

“I am still trying to imagine what my reaction would have been if I saw my kid (have a medical reaction),” he says.

Utah pool regulations

The Utah Health Department does have policies and regulations for pool and pool equipment maintenance.

State regulations state that the health department shall collect samples of the pool water “at least once per month and at least two weeks apart.”

Health regulations state that operators must close pools for high levels of E. coli, or fecal coliform bacteria.

When staff detects high levels of dangerous particles, pools do not need to be closed for days or weeks. The staff can reopen the pool after 45 minutes of levels returning to safe levels.

Pool owners must clean the dirt off the bottom of the pool at least every 24 hours.

The¬†pool operator must collect regular pool water samples. The frequency must be “at least once per month or at a more frequent interval as determined by the Local health Officer.”