Pool probe gets under way after major chemical leak

Emergency services at the East Sands Leisure Centre, St Andrews
Emergency services at the East Sands Leisure Centre, St Andrews

A leading expert has called for tighter safety procedures in swimming pools in the wake of a major incident in St Andrews in which 19 people were affected by a leak of potentially-fatal chlorine gas.

The pool, at East Sands Leisure Centre, re-opened on Wednesday afternoon following a visit by safety inspectors and its operator, Fife Sports and Leisure Trust, confirmed that an investigation is under way.

The casualties, who included five children - one of whom was just two - were taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee with breathing difficulties as a result of the incident.

Thirteen fire appliances attended the scene, two of them chemical units from Dundee and Methil.

The chemical is believed to be sodium hypochlorite, which turns into bleach when mixed with water and produces a gas that can cause breathing difficulties, burn skin and damage eyes. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

Swimmers in the pool on Tuesday reported hearing a loud bang and feeling stinging in their throat.

Allen Wilson, president of the Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers, said that such incidents happen ‘all too often’ and that it sometimes wasn’t recognised how dangerous the gas could be.

“It was chlorine gas that the German Army used against the Allied forces at Ypres in 1915, killing thousands within a few minutes,” said Mr Wilson.

“This is a highly volatile and hazardous chemical and in my view the operators of swimming pools need to be much more pro-active in terms of preventing the kind of incident we’ve seen this week.

“I would also like to see mandatory training and much more efficient emergency evacuation plans.”

Meanwhile, one of the swimmers who was in the pool at the time of the gas leak has criticised the evacuation operation as ‘a shambles’.

Gemma Kroegler (33) was swimming with her husband Gary and their two-year-old son Archie when they heard the explosion that preceded the gas leak.

She said it was about six or seven minutes later that the fire alarm went off .

“The emergency services were outstanding but I feel completely let down by the centre,” she said.

“It was understaffed; no-one seemed to follow any safety procedures; no-one took our names and we weren’t even given any blankets.

“We were just ushered outside and had to stand in the car park in our wet swimming costumes.

“When we went back to collect our stuff we were told we weren’t allowed in so we had no way of getting into the house and had to get the locks changed.

“I dread to think what chaos there would have been had it still been the school holidays and the pool was busier.

“Unless much better training is put in place there’s no way I’ll be taking Archie back.”

A spokersperson for Fife Sports and Leisure Trust said: “Investigations are ongoing as to the cause of the incident at East Sands Leisure Centre. We are unable to give any further details until an investigation report has been finalised.

“The Trust is liaising with the Health and Safety Executive which will decide if it, or Fife Council, will carry out a formal investigation.

“We would like to thank customers who were at the centre for their co-operation. We’d also like to thank emergency services for their support and our staff who acted quickly, following procedures so that everyone was safely escorted out of the building.”