The patients include one firefighter and six others who are at Vista Medical Center in Waukegan.
The anhydrous ammonia leaking from one or both of two 2-ton tanks being transported on a trailer by a farm tractor in Beach Park Thursday morning April 25, 2019 injured at least 37 people. Among the 37 people transported to area hospitals, seven people were listed in in critical condition during the day Thursday after the leak occurred near Green Bay Road and Clarendon Road about 4:25 a.m.
Biggest Danger of Ammonia is Inhalation Resulting in Airway Damage and Airway Obstruction
The biggest danger of ammonia is that it reacts with moisture in the respiratory system when inhaled in high concentrations. Ammonia interacts immediately upon contact with available moisture in the skin, eyes, oral cavity, respiratory tract, and particularly mucous surfaces. On contact with these moist body tissues, ammonia reacts for form very caustic ammonium hydroxide. Ammonium hydroxide causes the necrosis (death) of tissues through disruption of cell membrane lipids (saponification) leading to cellular destruction. As cells and cell proteins break down, water is extracted, resulting in an inflammatory response that causes further damage.
Inhalation at high concentrations can cause bronchiolar and alveolar edema, and airway destruction resulting in respiratory distress or failure. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation.
Ammonia’s odor provides adequate early warning of its presence, but ammonia exposure in low concentrations can cause olfactory fatigue or adaptation, which can reduce awareness of one’s prolonged exposure at low concentrations.
Lake County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Christopher Covelli said today that a total of 37 people were transported to hospitals “due to breathing in these toxic fumes. (Among) those 37, there are seven that are in critical condition with (what is) considered to be life-threatening injuries.”
The spill began about 4:30 a.m. in the area of Green Bay Road and 29th Street
— Sgt. Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office
Beach Park Ammonia Leak Timeline
Firefighters initially responded about 4:25 a.m. and initially found the plume of ammonia in the area before they found the actual leaking tank(s). Initial reports stated there was a crash and a fire. Fire dispatch received multiple calls that the “smoke” near the scene was making them light-headed.
Fire Dispatch at 4:34 a.m. reported the wind was from the southeast at 6 MPH.
Next firefighters found people down in the roadway nearby. Firefighters were warned by fire command on scene to approach the scene wearing Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus. Firefighters on the scene, wearing Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, reported at about 4:35 a.m. that there was an ammonia smell and that it was very difficult to breath.
At 4:36 a.m. firefighters confirmed three patients down on the ground on Green Bay Road just north of Major Avenue.
By 5:10 a.m. Lake County Sheriff’s Office alerted people via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that there appeared to be an Anhydrous Ammonia spill, which created a dangerous chemical cloud in the area of Green Bay Rd and 29th Street. “DO NOT GET CLOSE TO THE AREA! Residents in a 1-mile radius, STAY INSIDE, WINDOWS CLOSED!” This was a Shelter in Place alert. Eventually authorities also advised people to turn off their home HVAC systems.
Authorities also notified people in the area by using reverse 9-1-1 and by assigning police officers in the area with loud speakers.
Wind at 4:55 a.m. CDT was CALM at Waukegan Regional Airport, located just south of the scene. According to the NWS office at Waukegan Regional Airport, wind was forecast to hold at 2 mph from the southwest until about 9:00 a.m. when wind was forecast to shift from the southeast. Wind was also forecast to shift from the east and increase to about 9 MPH with gusts to 14-15 MPH by noon. The relatively calm wind conditions may exacerbated the effects of the ammonia cloud.
At 4:57 a.m. Beach Park Activated MABAS Division 4 Box Alarm on Box #12-40 for a hazardous material box and 12-99 for Life Safety Box (2nd Level).
As of 5:30 a.m. two patients were transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center.
At 6:20 a.m., the Life Safety Box for “ambulances only” was elevated to a 3rd Alarm
At 6:32 a.m., The Hazmat alarm was elevated to a 2nd Alarm and the Life Safety Box for “ambulances only” was elevated to a 4th Alarm.
At 7:23 a.m. Beach Park command requested an Interdivisional Box Alarm for additional ambulances as 5th alarm ambulances were already utilized for the incident. Six additional ambulances assigned from MABAS Division 3 (Deerfield, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Nothbrook, and Evanston.
By 7:40 a.m. investigators understood that a farm tractor was towing a pair of 2-ton tanks containing anhydrous ammonia when one or both began to leak, and Sgt. Covelli said investigators did not believe the vehicle was involved in a traffic collision.
At 7:40 a.m. the Hazmat Box Alarm #12-40 was struck out after the leak was secured.
At 9:19 a.m. the Beach Park Fire Department struck out the Life Safety Box (#12-99) for “ambulances only” with ambulances and crews temporarily remaining on the scene.
At 9:30 a.m., first responders from area fire and police departments were still going door-to-door in a subdivision as far as a mile away from where the accident occurred. They were asking whether people had their windows open early in the morning and whether they felt OK. They were mainly double-checking on the well-being of all residents.
During the period from 4:25 a.m. to about 9:00 a.m. firefighters responded to homes in the area where people reported experiencing symptoms apparently from the ammonia leak. Some were as close as Wakefield Drive west of Green Bay Road, south of the incident. One call was reported symptom as far as Joanna Avenue in Zion — to the northeast about 1.4 mile away. Initially there was no official confirmation that symptoms reported there —outside the “shelter in place” zone — were confirmed to be caused by the ammonia leak.
In subsequent press conferences, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Christopher Covelli provided most of the details about the incident.
“Basically it (the leak) caused the substance to go airborne,” Covelli said, “which released the plume into the air, which is extremely dangerous.”
That substance can cause “unconsciousness, and at worst case even death,” Covelli said.
According to Covelli, emergency personnel responding to the scene were among those injured. Most of the 11 firefighters transported were released from the hospital.
“Deputies arrived on the scene — our first responding deputies — (and they) exited their vehicles to try to aid the individuals who were at the scene, including individuals that were lying on the ground,” Covelli said. “The deputies were immediately overcome by the fumes that were in the air.”
Covelli continued to describe a chaotic scene.
“Those deputies had to retreat and get out of the area. Both of them were transported to a local hospital, treated and released.”
Among the 37 hospitalized, seven of the people suffered life-threatening injuries. A Newport Township firefighter and six other victims required airway support; and some or all were intubated in the intensive care unit, where they were listed in critical condition. Endotracheal intubation is important to support an open airway while damaged tissues are at risk of swelling and causing a fatal obstruction of the airway.
A woman speaking to media that gathered near the scene, said she pulled off the road while “spitting up and coughing” and said she saw a man lying on the roadway nearby. She said she called 9-1-1. Pamela Burnett, age 57, explained that she was driving to her job at a grocery store in Kenosha when she went through the cloud of toxic gas. “It kept on getting bigger and bigger — this wasn’t going away. I tried to slow down and not go through it,” she said, but it was too late. “It wasn’t smoke. I thought to myself this is some kind of chemical. The next thing I knew, I couldn’t breathe. It was such a strong smell. I thought to myself, ‘Lord this is it. I’m done now.’”
Burnett was transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
Victims of the anhydrous ammonia leak were transported to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, St. Catherine Hospital in Kenosha, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest and the Naval Station Great Lakes Hospital.
Covelli confirmed that a total of 11 firefighters and three police officers were transported for medical treatment, including the firefighter from the Newport Township Fire Protection District, who was listed in critical condition.
According to Covelli, most of the victims were determined to have “non-life-threatening” conditions, and several dozen people had were evaluated by paramedics near the scene, but not transported.
Mike Galllo, a division chief with the Lake Forest Fire Department, said it appears a valve failed that was hooked up to the two containers being pulled by the tractor. Gallo added that farmers often use the chemical to help aerate soil, and as of 9 a.m. both of the tanks had been emptied of the ammonia.
The one-mile perimeter that was set up when residents were told to shelter in place by closing windows and turning off their heating or air conditioning is an established pre-planned by an EPA and NOAA software tool that assists firefighters with managing hazmat chemical emergencies. The shelter-in-place alert was lifted about 10:00 a.m.
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— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) April 25, 2019
— ABC 7 Chicago (@ABC7Chicago) April 25, 2019
At least 37 hospitalized after chemical spill in suburban Beach Park https://t.co/6D5ptrIDDg
— NBC Chicago (@nbcchicago) April 25, 2019
— WGN TV News (@WGNNews) April 25, 2019
— WTTW (Chicago PBS) (@wttw) April 25, 2019
AMMONIA SPILL UPDATE: Lake County Sheriff's officials say 11 firefighters, two sheriff's deputies, and one police officer among the 37 hospitalized after ammonia spill in Beach Park. One firefighter and six civilians in critical condition. https://t.co/GokvRveHoA
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) April 25, 2019
Ammonia Spill In Beach Park Sends 40 To Hospital; 'I Was Suffocating' https://t.co/w7Ldjypkuk
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) April 25, 2019
Crash Scene at Red Marker …