An accidental chemical release at a Birmingham Water Works facility in Alabama sent dozens of workers to the hospital Wednesday morning and prompted a “shelter in place” warning for residents of the surrounding communities.
The accident occurred at the Birmingham Water Works’ Shades Mountain water filtration plant when two chemicals used in the water treatment process, sodium hypochlorite and ferric sulfate, were accidentally mixed, creating what Birmingham Fire & Rescue described as a “hazmat release.”
According to Birmingham Water Works, 54 people were taken to Birmingham area hospitals for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. More than a dozen of the injured workers reported having difficulty breathing.
A couple of hours after the chemical release, Birmingham Water Works confirmed that there was “no threat to the to the health and safety of the public.” The plant said that the chemical release had been contained to a building at the facility where the accident occurred and that the water supply was not affected.
Shortly after the accident, local authorities closed both directions of Highway 280 between Shades Creek Pkwy and Dolly Ridge Rd., creating miles of jammed traffic in and around the affected area.
The Mountain Brook Police Department said in a statement that the accidental mixture of the chemicals released a chlorine gas.
“Some of the effects people can experience from being exposed to chlorine gas are sneezing, nose irritation, burning sensation and throat irritation, nausea, vomiting or a headache. People may also experience skin irritation or chemical burns and eye irritation,” the statement said.
Birmingham Water Works says that is conducting a “full investigation” of the accident.