Chlorine Cloud Sends 8 Young Swimmers To The Hospital

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - 15-year old John Schmidt was swimming his cool down laps at Topeka Swimming Association practice Thursday morning at Gage Park's Blaisdell Pool when something happened that took his breath away.

Schmidt says he saw what he describes as a volcano swirling toward him from the jets under the water. As he swam above it, it hit him in the face. Schmidt says it seemed like his mouth and lungs just dried up and he couldn't breath.

Schmidt was among about a dozen swimmers who climbed to the deck, doubled over in coughing fits. Many were still coughing poolside a half hour later.

Shawnee County Parks and Rec director John Knight says the pool equipment lost power during overnight storms. A safety feature requires staff manually turn the pumps back on. He says it appears that when the staff member turned the pumps on Thursday morning, debris was blown back into the pool, along with a bubble of chlorine.

The chlorine pushed into the pool, sending a haze into the air above the water's surface.

Knight says staff have restarted the pumps many times before with no issues. They're investigating whether a mechanical problem might have contributed to the incident, but have already changed policy so that staff will no longer restart a pump when people are in the pool.

Schmidt was among eight swimmers who went to the hospital. After a breathing treatment, xray and steroid shots, he says he's ready to dive back in.

St. Francis Health Center said it treated five swimmers for chlorine exposure, while Stormont-Vail saw three people. All were treated and released.

Knight says chemical levels returned to normal and the pool opened as scheduled Thursday.

The Topeka Swimming Association leases the pool time from Parks and Rec to hold practices before the pool opens to the public.