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Chemical explosion burns Maiden man

May 10, 2011

A Maiden-area man was airlifted to Charlotte after a chemical explosion at a family pool left him with serious burns and danger of chemical inhalation.

The event brings attention to a looming threat as many area residents begin to prepare their pools for the summer swimming season.

At 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Maiden Fire Department and Catawba County EMS and Emergency Management hazardous materials experts responded to an explosion at a swimming pool outside the home of Donald Ray Walker, at 709 W. School St., said Maiden Fire Chief Danny Hipps.

"Basically, it appears a private citizen was mixing chemicals to treat a residential pool. The chemicals reacted, and there was a small explosion," said Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County Emergency Management coordinator.

Emergency responders found Jeff Walker, 43, suffering from burns and chemical inhalation. He was transported to Catawba Valley Medical Center before he was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was treated and released.

Hipps said neighbors along West Church Street heard an explosion after mid-day Tuesday, and Yaussy said combining pool cleaning chemicals incorrectly can create a hazardous situation, even an explosion.

"This is not common, but there are situations where something goes wrong with the pool chemicals," she said, "but this was more severe than I have ever seen before."

Yaussy said the chemical calcium hypochlorite was identified at the scene of the incident. A hazardous materials response team analyzed the chemicals to make sure of the type of clean-up required, she said, adding that once chemicals were identified, efforts to neutralize the chemicals was not a problem.

"There are a couple of different possibilities (to cause the explosion)." Yaussy said. "Chemicals could have been mixed improperly, there could be another chemical in the area that caused an interaction."

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency, in its March 2001 report "Safe Storage and handling of Pool Chemicals," state that a number of pool chemicals can be highly reactive and can release toxic vapors or worse.

"Intentional or accidental mixing of incompatible chemicals is likely to lead to a chemical reaction that may generate temperatures high enough to ignite nearby combustibles," the EPA reports.

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

S&H Pools owner Kimberly Huffman also advises pool owners or cleaners to keep their face away from the chemical containers, particularly when they are first opened after storage.

"Keep your face back and try not to breathe it in. Always know that fumes could be present and stay back," she said. "Even if the tablet bucket is vented, if it sits in heat, it can build fumes, and when you take the lid off you can have strong vapors."

For more information about the safe use of pool chemicals, check your pool safety plan or visit www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming.

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