GATLINBURG, Tenn. — New reports released by the city of Gatlinburg show close to 20 people were exposed in July to a sudden release of chlorine at the water park inside a Gatlinburg resort.
On July 6 around 8:30 p.m., there was a malfunction of the automatic chlorinator in the water park at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, according to Gatlinburg spokesperson Seth Butler. It caused a sudden release of a high amount of chlorine into the area that made some people sick.
Four people had to be taken to the hospital after being exposed, including three guests and a lifeguard.
According to incident reports from Gatlinburg police and fire crews, emergency crews arrived to find people who evacuated to the parking lot. Initially, crews said they did not notice anything out of the ordinary inside the water park area, saying the ventilation system was working properly and there was a "normal odor of chlorine."
Employees told crews they saw a visible cloud in the back half of the water park after the malfunction. One employee said they tried to go to the back of the building, but when they approached the cloud they were unable to breathe and had to turn back.
Staff said they had installed a new pool chemical system roughly a month prior to the incident. The company that installed it was on the scene and said it had added approximately seven bottles of chlorine eliminator to the system about an hour before the incident was reported.
"A section of our water park pool system experienced elevated levels of chlorine," said a spokesperson for Westgate in a statement to 10News. "We are working directly with the City of Gatlinburg to assess the situation, and the water park remains closed while we drain and refill it with a fresh set of water. We plan to re-open for guest use on Friday."
Multiple people were treated at the scene. Two guests and a lifeguard were initially taken to LeConte Medical Center, and after the initial triage was finished, a fourth person was taken to the hospital.
The report said all the patients had been treated and left the area.
"It can irritate your nose and enter your mouth. It can cause your eyes to be irritated," said Dr. R. Michael Green. "You can cough, sneeze, have a runny nose, have trouble breathing, all of those things."
He said that's even more true for people with certain medical conditions.
"If you have a breathing issue, like asthma or severe allergies already, then exposure to chlorine would certainly be worse for those people," he said. "If you were inside a pool or enclosed area, the best advice is just to leave that area and get some fresh air. That automatically is going to make you feel better."
Having too much chlorine in a swimming pool can cause asthma, lung irritation, and potentially skin and eye irritation, according to online sources.