Pool owners mix chems, explosions erupt

In the months since Covid-19 sent children home from school and parents home from work, there has been a surge in swimming pool sales and with it, a surge of inexperienced pool owners.

Because more people are spending time at home, Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey wants to remind pool owners to make sure they store and handle their chemicals properly.

This year, local Massachusetts fire departments and hazardous materials teams have responded to several emergencies involving pool chemicals.

“Pool chemicals can be dangerous when they become wet or are mixed with other chemicals. Make sure all chemicals are stored in a secure and dry area, and carefully follow all manufacturer’s instructions when using them,” Ostroskey said.

In June, the Whitman Fire Department responded to an explosion after a new pool owner mixed two different brands of pool shock in a bucket. He was sent to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The 29-year-old man’s girlfriend Megan Hennessey said he mixed a bag that was left over from the previous residents with a new bag of chemicals.

“When he mixed it in the bucket it was fine but when he dumped all the water out after putting it in the pool, it started to smoke and bubble,” Hennessey said.

Moments later, what was left in the bucket exploded.

“When he stepped back, it had one large explosion which blew the bucket in the air and once it hit the ground it had three more smaller explosions,” she said.

The man was taken to the hospital to be looked over. He experienced some hearing loss due to his proximity to the explosion though he is regaining it.

Neighbors said they heard the boom from a half a block away.

In July, the West Bridgewater Fire Department responded to a residence for a person suffering from inhalation injuries, from mixing pool chemicals. A tier 1 hazmat response was requested.

The District 1 hazmat team arrived on scene to assist. The patient was taken to the hospital and treated. No other details were reported.

Also, in July, multiple agencies responded to a hazmat incident at an Agawam Residence.

The Agawam Fire Department said firefighters, police, and the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS) Hazardous Materials Response Team all responded to some sort of pool chemical accident.

Fire Chief Alan Sirois said two people were taken to the hospital with unknown injuries.

“Pool chemicals can be especially hazardous, they can cause caustic burns if they are mixed with water or come in contact with your skin. We always recommend that individuals working with pool chemicals or any type of chemicals follow the manufacturer’s instructions when they are working with those chemicals for their safety,” said Chief Sirois.

DFS spokesperson Jennifer Mieth said that a lot of people are new pool owners this year.

Since the stay at home orders began, the number of pool chemical related injuries in the U.S. has not been tallied. However, in Canada, the IWK Regional Poison Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia has reported a significant increase in calls for chlorine chemical exposure this June (17) compared to last June (six).

Laurie Mosher, clinical leader at the IWK Regional Poison Centre, said the Centre presumes the numbers are so much higher because people have purchased pools or hot tubs at a higher rate than normal due to Covid-19.

She said that people can get a blast of chlorine gas when they open containers too close to their face.

“When they are heated up and you open them close to your face, you get a blast of chlorine gas. Which is six times more toxic than bleach and it overcomes you, and you get very significant symptoms. Difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing,” Mosher said.

Pool chemical incidents are higher; new pool owners should be made aware of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines for safe handling and storage of pool chemicals.

Better yet, call in the pool professionals who know what they are doing.