Twenty five kids on a school trip to White Lake Water Park in North Carolina became nauseous and started vomiting after the pool they were swimming in was accidentally over chlorinated (Photo: Facebook/White Lake Water Park).
More than 20 children were rushed to the hospital Thursday after the water they were swimming in at White Lake Water Park in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, was contaminated with excess chlorine.
“A higher than normal amount of pool bleach sanitizer was introduced into the pool by accident,” the park owner Ted Hucks wrote on Facebook following the incident — in which he writes that toxic “bleach odor” escaped to the surface of the water in the shallow section of the wave pool at around 3:30 in the afternoon. “There were many people in the pool at the time of the incident…. It is our understanding that of the 25 children checked out at the local hospital, three received breathing treatments.”
The affected kids — who had been on a school field trip — began to get nauseous and vomit, emergency services director Bradley Kinlaw told local news station WECT. Five of the victims were transported by ambulance, they report, while the rest were taken to the hospital in cars.
The wave pool where the kids got sick. (Photo: Facebook/White Lake Water Park).
As dramatic an incident as this was, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that such stories are unfortunately not uncommon. “Mishandling of pool chemicals by pool operators and residential pool owners leads to 3,000–5,000 visits to emergency departments across the U.S. every year,” the organization reveals.
Still, the answer isn’t to stop using chlorine, even though it’s potentially caustic. The chemical is essential in keeping swimmers safe in pools from Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) spawned by bacteria that include infections of the skin, ears, respiratory system, wounds and gastrointestinal systems.
But considering how risky too much chlorine can be — ingested it will burn kids’ throats and can be fatal, per the Environmental Protection Agency, and even in pool water, chlorine and companion chemicals “can cause breathing problems and will burn your eyes and skin” — how can parents keep kids safe in pools and water parks?
Jill White, a founder of Starfish Aquatics Institute, tells Yahoo Parenting that a strong smell of chlorine should be a red flag to parents, as a sign that the pool is not being well-maintained. In that case, you should flag a lifeguard or staffer.
But the only way to know for sure if the water is chlorinated correctly is to use a test kit. “You can’t tell by looking at the water,” White says. “A pool that is cloudy or green likely does not have enough chlorine, but just because a pool is clear does not mean is has enough, or that it isn’t too high.” Chlorine is measured in parts per million, White notes, adding that for moms and dads using test kits (available online and in most hardware stores), “the minimum level of chlorine should be 1PPM, with most pools being kept around 3ppm.”
For parents who choose not to do their own testing, another option is to ask to see the pool’s chemical logs, which are measured several times per day as required by many states’ health departments. Ph levels should be between 6.8 and 7.2; if they’re very high, the chlorine won’t be as effective.
White is quick to add, though, “correctly treated and maintained water will not cause illness or infection.”
And imbalances can be quickly fixed. Just hours after the contamination was corrected at White Lake Water Park, the owner posted an update on Facebook that “our wave pool is very much OPEN and running.”