Pool chemical leak sends 35 YMCA campers and counselors to area hospitals

(Photo: NewsChopper 7)

EDGEWATER, Md. (WJLA) - A faulty mechanical pump forced high-levels of a hazardous chemical into a crowded pool, sending 31 children and four adults to area hospitals.

Around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, a large group of swimmers at YMCA Camp Letts began coughing profusely and vomiting. Counselors cleared the water, and called 911.

"The camp staff quickly realized what was going on, and quickly put all the children through the showers, the fresh water, to decontaminate them," said Capt. Michael Pfaltzgraff with the Anne Arundel County Fire Dept.

First responders initiated a rapid triage, assessing around five patients per minute. NewsChopper 7 was flying overhead as paramedics walked young children, wrapped in white towels, to ambulances.

"All the children, between six and 16-years-old, were suffering from inhalation injuries," Capt. Pfaltzgraff added. "Some had serious symptoms."

Paramedics transported 18 patients to the Baltimore Washington Medical Center, eight to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, seven to the Anne Arundel Medical Center, and two to the Queen Anne Emergency Center.

Fire officials say the community-style in-ground pool uses two cleansing chemicals to balance pH levels: sodium hypochlorite and muriatic acid. It isn't known which of the two chemicals overcame the crowd of swimmers.

Camp Letts, which sits on a 219-acre wooded peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay, has a rich 107-year history. Despite the mid-morning calamity, other campers continued with their overnight and day sessions as staff picked-up the telephone and called home.

"We made sure we contacted all the parents in this situation," said Carla Larrick, the VP of Operations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. "We're waiting and collecting more facts as we stand here."

A Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) worker was on-site by Wednesday afternoon, preparing to test the pool. While officials have not identified a cause, Larrick said Tuesday evening's rainfall may be the blame.

Officials expect all 35 campers and counselors to make full recoveries.