A failed vacuum regulator is believed to have caused the chlorine gas release at the Sam Ketcham Pool Sunday, Feb. 26, said the City of Williams Lake during a press conference Friday.
According to the city’s preliminary investigations, the failed regulator allowed chlorine gas to fill water delivery pipes and the filter system.
At around 8:15 a.m. on the day of the leak, the wading pool was being refilled with water in anticipation of a public swim later that day.
Gas that had built up in the pipes and filters was pushed by greenish coloured water into the wading pool.
“It was not the result of human error,” said Mayor Kerry Cook Friday, adding the mechanical failure is still under investigation.
Unfortunately the chlorine gas release occurred during a Blue Fins Swim Club meet, where there were visiting swim teams from Quesnel and Prince George.
No one was in the wading pool at the time, but when the gas from the chlorine leak went into the wading pool it began to waft into the areas around the main pool where younger swimmers were warming up or sitting with parents in nearby bleachers.
Within moments children began coughing, recalled Blue Fins president Dale Taylor.
At the time of the leak, Taylor was at the other end of the pool and initially didn’t know what was going on until he noticed a lifeguard begin attending to a child.
In the meantime, a facility maintenance employee, doing the routine check of the chlorine levels, noted a strong chlorine smell, stopped the filling process, and directed the two lifeguards on duty to begin evacuating the area.
By 8:17 a.m. a 911 call went out, and first responders from the RCMP, Williams Lake Fire Department, Wildwood Fire Department, 150 Mile Fire Department, and the B.C Ambulance Service attended the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex, helping everyone who had been exposed to the chlorine gas. The pool area was evacuated within five minutes, the city says. Eventually 73 people, 45 of them children, were taken to Cariboo Memorial Hospital, said Dr. Sydney van Wyk, chief of staff.
“It was a mass casualty situation where more people came through the emergency room in a couple of hours than we would have in a given day,” van Wyk said.
“I’ve spoken to someone that’s been at the hospital close to 15 years and they said they’ve definitely not encountered something with this number of people at least.”
When patients arrived they were triaged in terms of severity, and then according to the severity giving them the resources they required.
Van Wyk doesn’t anticipate long-term complications because people were exposed the one time. Complications are more likely when people are exposed continually over long periods of time, he added. While most of the patients were treated and released quickly, two people were admitted overnight, and one eight-year-old boy from Quesnel was kept in hospital until Friday. Taylor said the boy was diagnosed with chemical-induced pneumonitis and will continue visiting a respiratory clinic for check ups in Quesnel.
Interior Health Authority told the Tribune so far hospitals have not seen any additional people return for treatment as a result of the exposure.
Taylor told Cook during the press conference he was disappointed that the club has not officially heard from the city.
“We had parents on the deck, we had swimmers, we had coaches helping out, and we never heard anything. I guess I’m looking for an apology of sorts. We had a lot of kids in danger on our behalf,” Taylor said.
It’s not only the local club that should have heard from the city, but the Wave Riders from Quesnel and the Barracudas in Prince George as well, Taylor added.
Cook said the first priority was dealing with the incident and making sure everybody was healthy and released.
“It was good news to hear that the eight-year-old was released today. That was our primary focus, then starting the investigation, and the next step.”
While a date for the final investigation report is not yet known, Geoff Goodall, general manager of planning and operations, said as soon as information becomes available it will be released to the public.
The main focus has been to determine what led to the chlorine being released at the pool.
At this point the city does not know when the pool will reopen. The city also stressed that while the main pool tank and underground water piping have been problematic, it is in no way related to the chlorine gas leak.