Beach Park Chemical Spill Forces School Closures, Residents Told To Stay Inside

At least 30 people have been hospitalized due to this ammonia spill

Mike Krauser
April 25, 2019 - 7:00 am
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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- At least 37 people, including three officers and 11 firefighters, have been hospitalized, and several north suburban schools have closed, after a chemical spill in north suburban Beach Park.

Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Covelli said the city first learned about the incident after the Lake County Sheriff’s office received a 911 call about a possible vehicle fire at Green Bay Road and 29th Street around 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning. When deputies arrives on scene, they found a plume of smoke in the air. 

"As the deputies approached, they were overcome by the chemical that was in the air. They had to retreat and could not actively tend to the scene due to the strong chemical. They immediately notified their dispatch center of the situation, which created and prompted a massive fire response here for a chemical spill," Sgt. Covelli said.

Firefighters initiated a hazardous materials response to contain the spill. Crews shot water on the ammonia to dilute the chemical.

A preliminary investigation revealed there was a tractor that has a trailer of tanks which contained anhydrous ammonia, a chemical often used as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant, according to the Center for Disease Control. According to Sgt. Covelli, there was a leak in one of the containers, creating the massive chemical spill and plume of chemical smoke in the air.

HazMat experts ordered a one-mile radius and asked Beach Park authorities to notify all residents to shelter in place and close all windows. Notifications were made via television/radio media, social media, automated call/text/email systems, and Nextdoor emergency alert, to notify Beach Park residents within a one-mile radius to shelter in place, keep all windows closed, and turn off HVAC systems, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement and fire personnel started going door-by-door later Thursday morning to check on residents in the immediate area, checking to ensure those closest to the scene are safe.

Shortly after 10 a.m., the shelter-in-place request was lifted.

The sheriff’s office confirmed that at least 37 people, including a deputy, a sergeant and a Zion police officer, plus 11 firefighters, have been taken to local hospitals as a result of the spill. 

One firefighter and six other people are listed in critical condition and had to be intubated, according to Covelli. The rest of the hospitalized people are either in good condition or were already treated and released by Thursday afternoon.

Anhydrous ammonia can cause unconsciousness, and in high concentrations can be fatal. Other symptoms include eye, nose, and throat irritation; breathing difficulty, wheezing, or chest pain; pulmonary edema, pink frothy sputum; burns, blisters and frostbite.

The cause of the leak was under investigation. Authorities said the victims were been taken to hospitals after inhaling ammonia fumes, including the two deputies who first arrived at the scene. The deputies were in serious but stable condition.

The Beach Park School District 3 announced about 6:10 a.m. that all District 3 schools would be closed for the day.

Just after 7 a.m., Zion-Benton High School in Zion and Prairie Trail School in Wadsworth announced they would be closed for the day as well.

Lake Forest Fire Department Division Chief Mike Gallo said crews from several nearby suburbs were called in to assist in the HazMat situation. He said, as of 7:40 a.m., the leak had been contained, and the ammonia containers on the tractor were empty.

“They’re continuing to monitor. We’ve got ambulances on standby,” Chief Gallo said. “...If anybody is having any kind of inhalation, any breathing issues, they can go ahead and call 911. We’ve got ambulances ready to take care of them.”

Chief Gallo said he expected the ammonia spill cleanup to last several hours.

“Making sure that the liquid, the leak has stopped, and then kind monitoring the plume, there’s only so much you can do with the plume, just kind of wait for it to dissipate. So at least several more hours, if not a good part of the day,” he said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.