A leak at an Alabama drinking water treatment plant sent 55 workers to the hospital, officials said.
The combination of treatment chemicals at the plant led to the gas leak Feb. 27, officials said.
“An accidental mix of sodium hypochlorite (which is essentially bleach) and ferric sulfate caused a chlorine off gas at our Shades Mountain Filter Plant,” the Birmingham Water Works wrote on Twitter. “We use these components to treat water as our normal practice, however they are not meant to be mixed together.”
Initially, 14 contractors and one Water Works employee were taken to the hospital, but then 40 more people who had been close to the gas were sent as well.
Authorities say exposure to the chemicals can cause respiratory problems, nausea and headaches. In addition, they said none of the injuries [were] believed to be life-threatening.
While the immediate health concerns revolved around those working in the plant, a gas leak like this could have had an impact on the surrounding community as well.
The chemicals gave off gas as well as a strong odor at the plant, officials said. In addition, residents were asked to shelter in place for an hour as Highway 280 near the plant was closed.
However, it appeared the incident posed no threat to the drinking water supply and, ultimately, consumers were safe.
“The water supply has not been contaminated,” Birmingham Water Works said. “The chemicals have been contained to the building at the facility where the accident occurred.”
“What happened was they were delivered to the wrong site,” said Rick Jackson, spokesperson for the Birmingham Water Works Board.
The mix-up led to the combining of two chemicals, which in turn caused a chlorine gas to release.