Parks Dept. investigates chemical spill that sickened children at pool

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The Garfield Park pool was still closed a day after a chemical scare sent dozens of people to the hospital. Four of them were still there as of Friday evening in good or stable condition.

It happened at the Garfield Park Aquatics Center on the south side Thursday afternoon.

Parks Department administrators don't know yet what went wrong in Garfield Park. It could have been an equipment malfunction, a worker's mistake or a combination of both.

County Health Department inspectors found nothing wrong that would prevent the Garfield Park pool from reopening. However, the Parks Department isn't satisfied. It is waiting on an independent inspection of the pool's 18-year-old filtering and water treatment system.

"Until we get a full report it's too early to say what the cause was. For that reason we are not going to reopen it until we have the report in hand," said Jen Pittman, Deputy Director Indianapolis Parks & Recreation.

The pool relies on an automated system that determines chlorine and pH levels. Right now investigators are trying to determine if it was a mechanical or human error that caused toxic amounts of chemicals to be released into the pool.

Thursday afternoon, a toxic combination of muriatic acid and bleach, chemicals used to keep pool water clear and safe, sickened more than 70 children and adults. Paramedics and then emergency room workers treated them for irritated skin, burning eyes, and difficulty breathing. More seriously injured children were hospitalized.

It's a relief for parents Mark McCullough and Kristal Vespo. Thursday, their three-year-old son Conner was limp, semi-conscious and barely breathing on his own.

On Friday, "he's playing like he normally does," McCullough said. "He's doing good. Ready to go home."

"It was really, really scary," McCullough added.

The city's 17 other public pools opened as usual Friday after inspections by an independent contractor.

Eric Vaughn brought a bunch of youngsters to play.

"I'm not concerned because I am in the water with them. If I see anything different or feel anything different, I will bring my children out," said Vaughn.

Fortunately today, that wasn't necessary.

Four parks pool workers were injured in the incident. Two required treatment, but were not hospitalized. Health and Parks Department officials are waiting until they feel well enough to answer some questions and hoping they can provide critical information as to what went so wrong.

Inspection reports at the Garfield Park pool reveal no major issues. Indianapolis Metro Police are not involved in the investigation.