More than three dozen people, including firefighters and police officers, were taken to area hospitals following a dangerous chemical spill in Beach Park, Illinois, that prompted a shelter-in-place warning and closed schools in numerous Chicago suburbs Thursday.
Thirty-seven people, seven of which were in critical but stable condition, were taken to hospitals for breathing and inhalation issues after a chemical cloud spilled into the sky from a tractor trailer, authorities said. The remaining 30 were said to be in serious but stable condition.
Among those hospitalized were 11 firefighters and three police officers, the Lake County Sheriff’s office reported.
Police arrived at the scene early Thursday morning neaqr North Green Bay Road and East 29th Street after a caller reported a possible vehicle fire at the intersection.
“As the deputies approached they were overcome by the chemical that was in the air,” Sgt. Christopher Covelli with the Lake County Sheriff’s office said. “They had to retreat and couldn’t actively attend to the scene.”
The driver of the vehicle also appeared to have “some medical issues” likely due to the spill, he added.
Officials said the spill appeared to be anhydrous ammonia, “which created a dangerous chemical cloud in the area,” warning the public not to get close.
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas with “pungent, suffocating fumes,” per the CDC, which said it can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, burns and more, becoming potentially fatal at high concentrations.
“This is a very dangerous chemical that can cause unconsciousness and worse case scenario death,” Covelli said.
Authorities had warned residents within a one-mile radius of the intersection of North Green Bay Road and East 29th Street to stay inside with windows closed. They were also told to turn off any heating or ventilation equipment.
That shelter-in-place order was lifted just after 10 a.m., though door-to-door checks from law enforcement were still ongoing.
Lake Forest Fire Division Chief Mike Gallo urged anyone who may be having breathing issues in the area to call 911 and get evaluated.
Officials initially said at 7:30 a.m. that 12 to 15 people were taken to hospitals. By 10 a.m., that number had grown to at least 37.
The Lake County sheriff’s office said the spill occurred at around 4:30 a.m. when a tractor carrying containers of anhydrous ammonia had a leak.
“It is really important to stay inside,” Covelli said in a phone interview, adding, “Don’t come out and risk breathing in these fumes, these toxic fumes that are in the air.”
Further details, including timing on when the spill might be resolved, were not available.
“At least several more hours if not a good part of the day here,” said Divison Chief Mike Gallo with the Forest Lake Fire Department, who noted that the plume is slowly dissipating.
All schools in Beach Park School District 3 were closed Thursday because of the chemical spill, the district posted on its website, citing safety concerns for students and staff.
District 3 schools include: Beach Park Middle School, Howe Elementary School, Kenneth Murphy Elementary School, Newport Elementary School and Oak Crest Elementary School.
Zion-Benton Township High School and New Tech High @ Zion-Benton East were also closed Thursday, according to an alert from District 126, which said police advised school officials to cancel classes for the day, and that the district did not have access to buses for student transport.
Prairie Trail schools in Wadsworth were also closed, Covelli said.
Sky5 footage from above showed a large response to the hazmat situation, with several emergency vehicles on the scene. Officials were going door-to-door throughout the area as of 9 a.m.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Source: NBC San Diego