Burgess baby pool malfunction in Menlo Park: probe ongoing; similar incident occurred in 2006

City also delayed announcement in 2006 case

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 aquatic facility's public-private partnership remain unanswered.

A similar incident at the pool occurred in 2006 (details below).

Slow disclosure

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 OK, 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.

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, he said, and the city and Menlo Swim and Sport are working together to fix the problem.

2006 incident

The Aug. 10 accidental exposure sounds like 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 in 2006.

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

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."

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Like this comment
Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

It is important to note that the 2006 incident was a false alarm. A mother thought she smelled chlorine and called 911. She then forced her child to drink large amounts of water which resulted in the child vomitting. This same mother insisted that her child be taken to the hospital. The symptoms listed for 8 children above obviously weren't severe enough for the 8 to go to the hospital. Upon examination at the hospital it was discovered that no chlorine exposure had occured but that the chlorine smell that upset the mother could have come from the circulation pump.
It was a non incident.

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