MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A malfunction in the filtration system shut down the Maplewood Community Pool on Saturday, July 17, and sent a number of children to the hospital with vomiting and difficulty breathing.
The pool was shut down for the rest of the day and was reopened on July 18; staff tested the water and chemicals every two hours and the system passed all tests. According to township administrator Jerry Giaimis in an email to the News-Record on July 19, the malfunction resulted in a sediment release, sudden chlorine smell and liquid chlorine discharge, which resulted in the discoloration to the water in the pool.
“More specifically, the issue was with the automatic level controller, which controls the amount of water in the pool. This malfunction reduced the volume of water available for the filtration system and caused the recirculation pump to draw in air and shut down,” Giaimis said. “While this was occurring, another feed pump continued to operate, pumping chlorine into the piping system. When the water level reached the proper elevation the filtration system restarted and the initial rush of filtered water into the pool caused liquid chlorine, at levels higher than normal, to enter the pool.”
Corrective steps were taken to ensure that the filter was fixed and to prevent the malfunction from reoccurring. The automatic level controller is being bypassed now, and the water level in the pool is being routinely monitored and maintained by certified pool staff from contractor CFM Pools.
“The filtration system and chemical control systems are being continuously monitored by staff on an hourly basis,” Giaimis said. “At all times prior to the incident the chemistry level tests resulted in readings that were within normal limits and these readings continued after the incident.”
Mostly children were affected by the issue; some were taken to the emergency room due to excessive coughing and vomiting. Charlene Burris was at the pool with her husband and two children, who were all in the water when the filter broke.
“My husband smelled chlorine, and this brown sediment came shooting out of the jet,” Burris said in a phone interview with the News-Record on July 19. “My kids were coughing and my youngest started vomiting. No one knew what it was or how to help.”
Burris’ two children are 8 and 6 years old; both were taken to the hospital. Her 8-year-old was coughing, pale and lethargic; her 6-year-old was kept at the hospital overnight because of an irritation on his lungs. Both are doing much better now.
Burris said she has spoken to members of the town’s health department, which is gathering data about the people affected. She has also spoken with Mayor Frank McGehee and Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis.
“They’re apologetic, but right now they’re only saying they found an issue and fixed it,” Burris said. “They’re not communicating. Right now, my biggest concern is that I don’t know why they were so sick.”
In his email, Giaimis said the health department has reached out to all the families that were affected and are offering assistance. For privacy reasons, he couldn’t comment on those communications.
The town released a statement on Facebook on July 19 explaining how the filter system malfunctioned and the current process for monitoring the pool.
“The safety of our residents and pool members is our primary concern and we would do nothing to compromise that. Pool staff, as well as CFM, has been diligent in continual testing and ensuring health and safety standards for water quality,” Giaimis said. “Furthermore, processes for enhanced monitoring of the mechanics of the pool are being put in place to assure that the pool is safe and operable.”