Digging deeper into Durham YMCA chemical leak

HAZMAT crews on the scene of the chlorine spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA. (A.J. Janavel/CBS North Carolina)
HAZMAT crews on the scene of the chlorine spill at the Downtown Durham YMCA. (A.J. Janavel/CBS North Carolina)

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — More details were released Friday about how YMCA staff members responded to 40 sick children on their watch.

Witnesses say several children were coughing and throwing up Wednesday after playing in the pool at the Downtown Durham YMCA.

A chemical leak sent 40 of them to the hospital.

EARLIER: Downtown Durham YMCA reopens following chemical leak, pool remains closed, questions linger

A witness called 911 saying he saw the campers get on the bus and leave, although they were showing signs of distress.

That caller was Peter Eisenmann, a YMCA member who was there at the same time as the kids.

He says he was leaving around 2:30 p.m. as the kids were lined up to get on the bus.

“And as I walked through the line of kids, I could smell chlorine. I used to be a lifeguard, so it’s a familiar smell to me. And, they were rubbing their eyes and they were coughing,” said Eisenmann. “My biggest concern was those kids were loaded on buses, and I watched them drive away. And, I wanted to make sure those kids — somebody knew that those kids were leaving the area where there was this problem.”

“When I stepped out, all those kids that were getting on the buses to go back from the Y were coughing and hacking,” said the caller. “And then I smelled chlorine and I thought ‘Oh (expletive), they don’t need to get the kids out of here, they need to get someone over here to look at them all.’”

A timeline details the moments staff noticed the leak at the YMCA to the time the children got on the bus, and then headed back to the camp site.

2:25 p.m. – A lifeguard checks on the pump room and notices an odor. She clears the pool and pool area, then closes the pool.
2:30 p.m. – YMCA campers board the bus to go back to the camp location.
2:35 p.m. – The bus leaves the YMCA and heads to the camp location.
2:37 p.m. – A YMCA staff member calls 911 because the lifeguard has started feeling bad.
2:41 p.m. – EMS arrives at the YMCA.
2:51 p.m. – A staff member on the bus calls the director of the Downtown Durham YMCA to say kids are coughing and throwing up. It has now been 21 minutes since children boarded the bus.

Eisenmann called 911 after a YMCA staff member did. During his call, a 911 dispatcher said emergency responders weren’t aware yet of the extent of the problem.

“Someone called in reference to someone having a breathing difficulty, but they don’t have any idea about this situation,” the dispatcher said and determined a HAZMAT team needed to be alerted.

“I can’t speak to the third-party 911 call,” said Jennifer Nelson, YMCA vice president. “What we know, and we have verified this with our staff on site, (is that) there was no indication at that time when they got on the bus that there was anything indicative of the magnitude of this situation.”

In an email to CBS North Carolina, he said there were eight staff members with the children on the buses.

The YMCA adds that each staff member completes a minimum of 30 hours of staff training that emphasizes the importance of safety.

“I think we followed our protocol,” said Nelson. “We will always look to improve and learn from an experience. I think all the officials would agree with us on that.”

The YMCA says they have one staff member for every ten campers.


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