UPDATE: 37 people taken to hospital, 7 in critical condition after ammonia leak in Illinois

UPDATE: 37 people taken to hospital, 7 in critical condition after ammonia leak in Illinois


Updated: 2:12 p.m. April 25, 2019

BEACH PARK, Ill. (AP) — A chemical leak that caused a toxic plume to hang for hours over a northern Chicago suburb Thursday sickened dozens of people, including seven who are in critical condition, officials said.

Lake Forest Fire Chief Mike Gallo said a tractor was towing two separate two-ton containers of anhydrous ammonia when the leak occurred around 4:30 a.m. Initial reports suggested the vehicle was involved in a crash, but the sheriff's office later said that was not the case. The cause of the leak has not been released.

The leak created a toxic cloud that lingered for several hours over Beach Park, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of downtown Chicago. Authorities ordered residents within a 1-miles radius to stay inside and close their windows. Area schools were closed for the day.

Eleven firefighters were among the 37 people who were hospitalized, and one of the injured firefighters was among the seven in critical but stable condition, according to the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Three law enforcement officers were in good condition and several others were serious but stable, sheriff's spokesman Christopher Covelli said.

Authorities said most of those injured suffered breathing problems.

"This is a very dangerous chemical that can cause unconsciousness and, worst case scenario, death," Covelli said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas that can cause breathing difficulties, burns, blisters and is fatal if breathed in high concentrations. Farmers use it to add nitrogen to soil.

The first two officers who responded to the leak had to retreat because they were overcome by the ammonia, Covelli said.

"It was difficult to get to that scene initially with those chemicals in the air without proper protection and gear to wear over the face," he said.

Authorities said about two dozen law enforcement agencies responded to the leak. The leak was contained within a few hours and the leaking tank was empty, authorities said, adding that they were waiting for the chemical plume to dissipate.

The order to remain indoors was lifted by late morning, Covelli said.

Schools in the area were closed Thursday.


Posted: 10:42 a.m. April 25, 2019

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (CBS 58) -- Just south of the Wisconsin, Illinois border 31 people have been taken to the hospital after a chemical spill.

According to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, officers responded to a possible vehicle fire Thursday morning just before 4:30 a.m. in Beach Park but when they got close to the scene they were overcome with an airborne chemical. 

A preliminary investigation determined containers of anhydrous ammonia being towed by a tractor started leaking causing toxic plumes of chemicals to be released into the air.

Over 25 ambulances and a HAZMAT team responded to the incident along with dozens of police officers who closed a 1-mile perimeter around the truck from car and pedestrian traffic. Anyone who lives within the 1-mile perimeter was asked to shelter in place with windows and doors closed and heating and air conditioning units off. 

As of 9 a.m. the shelter in place order remains in effect and first responders are going door-to-door to check on residents. 

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