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Burn victim in critical condition

May 16, 2011

A Maiden man is fighting for his life after a chemical explosion left his lungs, throat and body burned last week.

Jeff Walker, 43, was airlifted to the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Burn Center on Wednesday after a mixture of pool chemicals exploded outside his brother's residence at 709 W. School St. in Maiden.

Walker, who works for the town of Maiden's water and sewer department, is on life support and in critical condition, family members said Monday.

"The doctors are trying to get him to breathe on his own, but when they take him off life support, he can't," said Sherry Ramseur, Walker's sister.

Ramseur said Walker was pouring water into three buckets filled with 24 pounds of pool chemical calcium hypochlorite when the explosion occurred. Calcium hypochlorite, commonly referred to as "pool shock," is a disinfectant that is toxic by ingestion, skin contact and inhalation, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

A calcium hypochlorite Material Safety Data Sheet also said to "never add water to this product."

"When the explosion happened, Jeff said he jumped up and took off running to the shower," Ramseur said. "The fumes coming off of him were so bad that (his brother) couldn't even stand next to him."

In addition to external burns, Walker suffered severe damage to his lungs and throat from inhaling the chemicals. Walker has also developed pneumonia, Ramseur said.

Ramseur added that Walker has dealt with pool chemicals for years, but was using a new chemical list provided by an unidentified acquaintance. The list was taken from the scene by a Catawba County hazardous materials response team (HazMat).

Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County Emergency Management coordinator, investigated the scene of the explosion with the HazMat team.

"The cause of the explosion is still narrowed down to two possibilities," Yaussy said. "There might have been other residue left in the bucket that he was using or everything might not have been added in the accordance it should have been."

Ray Walker, Jeff's father, said Catawba County first responders acted quickly and professionally on the scene.

"The Maiden rescue squad, the Maiden Fire Department, the Maiden Police Department and the Catawba County EMS all responded very quickly and did a fantastic job stabilizing my son," Ray said. "Catawba County residents are very fortunate to have dedicated and often under-paid emergency responders."

Yaussy said to avoid problems, pool owners and operators should follow warning labels and instructions that come with pool chemicals "to the letter."

"We also recommend people stick with one brand of chemicals," she said. "Don't use chemicals from a previous year with new containers. Also, use containers specifically for taking care of the pool."

Yaussy said even measuring devices for pool chemicals shouldn't be used for other substances.

"If there is a little residue in there...with these particular chemicals, they can react very violently," she said. "There some risks to it, so people need to be careful with it."

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