Dozens Being Treated After Water Treatment Chemical Spill

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First responders still are on the scene of a chemical spill at the Birmingham Water Works treatment facility on U.S. 280.
First responders still are on the scene of a chemical spill at the Birmingham Water Works treatment facility on U.S. 280.

Source: Mary Scott Hodgin,WBHM

Update 4:57 p.m. – All lanes of U.S. 280 are open. Officials say it is safe to go outside.

Dozens of workers are being treated at area hospitals following a chemical spill this morning at the Birmingham Water Works treatment plant off U.S. 280. Officials say they’re being treated for respiratory problems. Fourteen people were transported to hospitals initially, with an additional 40 being treated as a precautionary measure, officials say. 

The water supply hasn’t been affected, according to Rick Jackson, spokesman for the Birmingham Water Works. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management says it is monitoring the situation.

The spill happened around 9:30 a.m., according to Birmingham Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Sebastian Carrillo.

Jackson says officials are unsure what caused the spill. Two chemicals used in treating the water — sodium hypochlorite  and ferric sulfate — mixed together. Normally they remain separate in the water treatment process. When they’re combined, they release a toxic gas.

Officials are monitoring air quality and wind conditions to see if gases escaped from the plant. Officials haven’t evacuated the area, but encourage residents to remain in place. Traffic on U.S. 280 is being diverted due to the spill.

Mountain Brook police warn of the effects of exposure to chlorine gas: sneezing, nose irritation, burning sensation, throat irritation, nausea, vomiting, headache. Skin or eye irritation or chemical burns also are possible.

Homewood school officials announced that while they’re not under threat, they’re keeping students inside as a precautionary measure.

The plant is the state’s largest water treatment facility, according to the utility. It was in the midst of a major renovation when the spill took place.