American Fork Fitness Center 7

A swim team practices at the American Fork Fitness Center Pool on April 23, 2015.

Pleasant Grove is taking action following an incident Tuesday when approximately 50 people were exposed to dangerous amounts of chlorine gas at a public pool.

In response to the incident at the Pleasant Grove Veteran’s Memorial Swimming Pool, the city is investigating the cause, believed to be equipment failure. Scott Darrington, city administrator, said the Utah County Health Department was there Wednesday to evaluate the situation and determine when the pool can be reopened. Darrington said there is also a team of people from a local company investigating the machinery and equipment.

A post on the city’s Facebook page and its “recreation” page says residents will be informed as soon as all safety measures have been met and the Utah County Health Department has approved the pool for use. If the pool is able to open in a few days, swimming lessons will be rescheduled. If it is longer than a few days, Darrington said it is likely they will just refund people for the lessons.

Lindon and American Fork pools are allowing current Pleasant Grove pass holders to swim at their facilities in the meantime. Darrington said they reached out after the incident.

“We’re grateful to our neighbors.”

The city is insured for things like this, and Darrington said anyone looking for compensation following the incident can file a claim at city hall.

“We are hopeful that everyone has a full recovery.”

Four patients were treated at Utah Valley Hospital and 16 at American Fork Hospital, as of Tuesday night, according to Lance Madigan, a spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare.

All but two of those patients had been released as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Madigan.

Of the 16 children who were admitted to Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem for chlorine poisoning, 12 had been discharged as of Wednesday morning, according to Nate Black, a spokesman for the hospital. The remaining patients were discharged by Wednesday evening.

The incident occurred during a shift change at Timpanogos Regional Hospital, which meant that there were double the amount of nurses and respiratory therapists on site at the time.

“It was really fortunate when it happened because we were able to respond quite effectively to it,” said Micah Smith, an emergency physician at the hospital.

Low exposures to chlorine can lead to symptoms such as a cough or eye and throat irritation. Higher levels of exposures can lead to more serious symptoms such as fluid accumulating in the lungs and airways, leading to respiratory distress. Smith said symptoms present immediately after exposure.

He suggests anyone experiencing symptoms of chlorine poisoning to get evaluated at a hospital.

At least four of the children would have had immediately been transported to Primary Children’s Hospital via helicopter, according to Dustin Monroe, the pediatric intensivist at Timpanogos Regional Hospital, but because of the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit were able to be treated locally.

He said children can have more difficulties with chlorine exposures than adults because their airways are smaller.

“If a child has swelling in the respiratory tree, they have difficulty a lot faster than an adult patient because they don’t have as much room,” Monroe said.

He said a child can have 16 times as much difficulty than an adult patient with similar swelling.

The patients the hospital saw Tuesday came in with labored breathing. Monroe said treating chlorine poisoning in children requires more monitoring than with adult patients.

“They can go south a lot more quickly,” Monroe said.

Tuesday was an all-hands-on deck situation, with administration present to hand out blankets and pizza.

The hospital has a plan in place for different incidents, like a chemical exposure that can lead to a surge in patients. Smith said the hospital’s first step was assuring that patients were properly decontaminated before entering the building so they don’t cause problems for employees or other patients.

Smith said most patients had already been decontaminated by a fire department before they came in.

Other procedures were put into place to manage the influx and speed up processes, including issuing orders verbally instead of through a computer and opening up overflow space in the adjacent same-day surgery department.

The hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, which has been in place for about two years, admitted three children.

“Three years ago, if this would have happened, I would have had a completely different response,” Smith said.

Smith said that without the PICU, patients would have flooded Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Even with plans in place for chemical exposures, Smith said chlorine poisoning is rare to see at the hospital.

“That is a very uncommon presentation, especially in that volume of people,” Smith said.

He said there can be long-term injuries possible depending on the exposure to the chlorine, but he doesn’t expect any of the patients the hospital saw to experience long-term effects.

He praised the agencies who responded Tuesday afternoon.

“The response from the fire department was superb, from the different agencies, they did a great job,” Smith said. “I know from talking with colleagues from other facilities, their responses went well.”

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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