Fumes affect 20 children at kiddie pool in Myrtle Beach

MYRTLE BEACH -- Twenty children were treated for respiratory problems Friday after what Myrtle Beach fire officials called an uncommon release of toxic fumes from a chlorine reaction near the kiddie pool at the Landmark Resort.

Children -- ages 3 to 13 -- complained of breathing problems and eye irritation after the noon incident, Lt. Dan Walker of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department said . Hotel management evacuated the pool and lazy river area after the incident but not the hotel's interior.

Most of the victims were taken to area hospitals. Seven were treated at the scene, authorities said.

Walker said city fire officials respond to one or two smaller-scale chlorine related incidents each year, but problems affecting the number of people involved Friday are rare.

Myrtle Beach firefighters have responded in the past to situations including explosions resulting from chlorine reactions with other agents and maintenance workers becoming ill after exposure to fumes, the lieutenant said.

"Considering the amount of hotels and swimming pools in our area, we respond to very few incidents like this. I think the hotels' management staffs, DHEC and we, with our inspection programs, keep the public very safe," he said.

Inspectors from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control concluded an inspection at the Landmark on Friday evening and were unable to determine what caused the reaction, said department public information director Adam Myrick.

He said DHEC does not plan on taking any enforcement action in Friday's incident, and they're working with the hotel to address the pool's problems.

"We really didn't find a root cause. We probably won't ever be able to find one," he said. "We did find some problems with the pool, but that relates to how old it is. It dates back to the 1980s."

Friday's reaction was confined to the kiddie pool area, Walker said.

Outside the hotel, a triage area was set up to treat patients on scene. Symptoms ranging from mild eye, respiratory and skin irritation to dizziness, nausea and vomiting were reported.

Police blocked South Ocean Boulevard between 15th and 16th avenues south. Traffic was being diverted along Yaupon Drive.

Hotel management re-opened its other pools by about 1 p.m. and cordoned off the kiddie pool for DHEC to conduct its investigation.

Leann Blair is staying at the Landmark Resort with a large group of family members. Five of the children from her group were taken to area hospitals, she said.

"My nieces and nephews -- we all brought them down to the lazy river area and they all went and jumped right in," Blair said. "When we came off the elevator, we could smell it. It was kind of like 1/8drain cleaner 3/8, kind of acid-like."

Charles Walker of Union said his 10-year-old son Alex Foster, who is asthmatic, started to feel ill by the pool and retreated to their room when his symptoms worsened.

"I'm glad he got out. He didn't like how he felt, so he had the smarts to get away and come to our room," Walker said.

Alex said he was swimming in the pool when he felt ill.

"I got in and I was swimming, and I didn't feel good. My throat was clogged and I was coughing, so I came up to the room," Alex said.

Walker said people should feel safe in area pools, because strict policies and regulations enforced by the fire department and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control are in place.

"We don't usually see a lot of injured visitors like this."

Myrtle Beach Fire Department inspects all high-rise hotels every two years and low-rise hotels each year, he said.

"If we didn't have a good regulation system like we do, we'd see these a lot more," Walker said.

DHEC also maintains a schedule of inspections and reporting requirements, according to its Web site. Pool managers are required to monitor water quality and report on chlorine and other chemical handling activity.

According to the regulations in place, pools must be maintained and monitored by a certified pool operator licensed by the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The pool operator is required to test swimming pools at least three times per week during operation, record the results in the facility's daily operation report and initial it.

Contact JONATHAN TRESSLER at 444-1723 or jtresslerthesunnews.com.