Warrenville Fire Protection District firefighter/paramedics responded to report of a chlorine odor with people feeling ill about 4:15 p.m. Friday at LIFETIME Fitness, 28141 Diehl Road. At least 13 people were transported to area hospitals and the 24-hour facility was closed temporarily.
The area was secured by 6:30 p.m. after a HazMat response team cleared the scene. No spill was discovered and the exact source of the odor was either not discovered or not revealed.
At least 10 fire departments responded as part of the MABAS mutual aid agreement. Those affected by the odor were transported to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Central DuPage Hospital, Edward Hospital, and Mercy Medical Center. Most patients were transported to Edward Hospital and Health Services in Naperville. Some people are more sensitive to chlorine then others, but all people can be seriously affected if chlorine levels are high enough.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, if chlorine gas is released into the air, people may be exposed through skin contact, eye contact, or by inhalation — breathing air that contains chlorine. Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it settles in low-lying areas (See more Chlorine from CDC …).
If chlorine liquid is released into water, people may be exposed by touching or drinking water that contains chlorine.
When chlorine gas comes into contact with moist tissues such as the eyes, throat, and lungs, an acid is produced that can damage these tissues.
Immediate signs and symptoms of chlorine exposure
During or immediately after exposure to dangerous concentrations of chlorine, the following signs and symptoms may develop:
Burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes
Nausea and vomiting
Burning pain, redness, and blisters on the skin if exposed to gas, skin injury similar to frostbite if exposed to liquid chlorine
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath (may appear immediately if high concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled, or may be delayed if low concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled)
Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) within 2 to 4 hours
Showing these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to chlorine.
Long-term health effects of chlorine exposure
Long-term complications from chlorine exposure are not found in people who survive a sudden exposure unless they suffer complications such as pneumonia during therapy. Chronic bronchitis may develop in people who develop pneumonia during therapy.
How people can protect themselves, and what they should do if they are exposed to chlorine
Leave the area where the chlorine was released and get to fresh air. Quickly moving to an area where fresh air is available is highly effective in reducing exposure to chlorine.
If the chlorine release was outdoors, move away from the area where the chlorine was released. Go to the highest ground possible, because chlorine is heavier than air and will sink to low-lying areas.
If the chlorine release was indoors, get out of the building.
If you think you may have been exposed, remove your clothing, rapidly wash your entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible.
Removing and disposing of clothing:
Quickly take off clothing that has liquid chlorine on it. Any clothing that has to be pulled over the head should be cut off the body instead of pulled over the head. If possible, seal the clothing in a plastic bag. Then seal the first plastic bag in a second plastic bag. Removing and sealing the clothing in this way will help protect you and other people from any chemicals that might be on your clothes.
If you placed your clothes in plastic bags, inform either the local or state health department or emergency personnel upon their arrival. Do not handle the plastic bags.
If you are helping other people remove their clothing, try to avoid touching any contaminated areas, and remove the clothing as quickly as possible.
Washing the body:
As quickly as possible, wash your entire body with large amounts of soap and water. Washing with soap and water will help protect people from any chemicals on their bodies.
If your eyes are burning or your vision is blurred, rinse your eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes. If you wear contacts, remove them before rinsing your eyes, and place them in the bags with the contaminated clothing. Do not put the contacts back in your eyes. You should dispose of them even if you do not wear disposable contacts. If you wear eyeglasses, wash them with soap and water. You can put the eyeglasses back on after you wash them.
If you have ingested (swallowed) chlorine, do not induce vomiting or drink fluids.
Seek medical attention right away. Dial 911 and explain what has happened.
See also …
National Center for Biotechnology Information Chlorine Gas: An Evolving Hazardous Material Threat and Unconventional Weapon
National Center for Biotechnology Information Lessons learned from chlorine intoxications in swimming pools: the challenge of pediatric mass toxicological events. (a case where 40 children were affected but only one was serious enough to suffer pulmonary edema)