News - August 25, 2010

Pool mishap: Why did city wait eight days to report it?

• City also delayed announcement in 2006 case.

by Sandy Brundage

The Menlo Park investigation continues into a chlorination malfunction at the Burgess baby pool that put two children in the hospital. The 2-year-old and 3-year-old sisters are now recovering at home, but questions regarding the city's delay in releasing information about the incident and the potential liability of the public-private partnership of the aquatic facility remain unanswered.

Menlo Park recreation services manager Katrina Whiteaker said the pool's operators informed the city of the accident on Aug. 10. However, information wasn't released to the public until eight days later.

"In hindsight I see how we could have posted a more explicit announcement," Ms. Whiteaker said, "But at the time our first priority was seeing that the family was okay, making sure that the environment was safe, and getting the experts on site to start investigating."

She added that city staff thought it better to wait until facts were available rather than falsely alarming the community with speculation.

Mayor Rich Cline, who said he heard about the incident within 48 hours after it happened, said the children were treated at Stanford hospital for a day or two, and he understands their condition is "better than it could be."

Asked about the city's eight-day delay in reporting the accident to the public, he said, "I'm not sure I understand what the city was doing, maybe gathering more information." He noted the complication of having a third party in charge of the pool and "having to work through Sheeper to get details of what happened."

Tim Sheeper, executive director of Menlo Swim and Sport, which operates the public facility, said the city inspects the pools every week and was notified immediately about the accident.

"There is full transparency," he wrote in an e-mail to the Almanac. "Detailed information was needed from the experts, all the experts before information was released to the public."

The original design company representative had to fly out to inspect the site, Mr. Sheeper said, and the city and Menlo Swim and Sport are working together to fix the problem.

2006 incident

The Aug. 10 incident rings of deja vu. Four years ago, eight children using the children's pool experienced burning eyes and throats, shortness of breath, and violent coughing — all symptoms of low-level chlorine exposure, according to the American Association of Poison Control. Paramedics took one to the hospital.

The city waited six days before informing the public.

The 2006 incident resulted from an accidental shutdown and restart of the pool's circulation pump, according to Mr. Sheeper. He told the Almanac that a contractor later added two mechanical safeguards to prevent a recurrence.

The poison control association collected 3,451 reports of swimming pool chlorine exposures during the past eight years across the United States, nearly half for children under the age of 19 and requiring medical treatment.

Contract up for bid

Team Sheeper's rent-free contract with the city ends next May. The City Council will consider putting the contract out for bid at its Aug. 24 meeting.

Although some residents speculated that both incidents might be the result of sabotage aimed at shifting control of the facility to a union-backed company, police spokesperson Nicole Acker said the police are not investigating that possibility.

Asked whether the accident could affect his chances of winning the new contract, Mr. Sheeper said, "Only time will tell, but my focus has been on ensuring we get to the root of the problem and make sure that it never happens again to us or any other operator that is responsible for community safety at Burgess Pools."

The baby pool will remain closed until at least September while the investigation continues, according to the city and Menlo Swim and Sport.


Posted by Cynical de Bergerac, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Why did city wait eight days to report it?

Could it be that it took the SEIU attorneys 8 days to review and edit the report before sending it to the City for release?

Who knows.

Posted by Cynical de Bergerac II, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 24, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Why did city wait eight days to report it?

Could it be because Team Sheeper - as the operator of the pool - wouldn't provide an answer as to what happened under their lawyers advice since they're legally liable?

Who knows?

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