Chlorine Dioxide Fumes Send 19 To Blytheville Hospital Sunday Morning

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(Blytheville, AR) Nineteen people working at a steel mill in Mississippi County, Ark., were  exposed to chlorine-dioxide Sunday morning.

The incident happened at the Nucor-Yamato steel plant east of Blytheville.

The employees and contractors, taken to the Great River Medical Center, had to be decontaminated before being admitted to the hospital.

The hospital put its disaster plan into action and called in additional staff to handle the crises.

Jennifer Young is director of the Emergency Department at Great River Medical Center in Blytheville.

"Anytime you have a large-scale emergency, that stresses your resources, your staffing resources," said Young.

Extra staff members were called in Sunday morning when the hospital put its disaster plan in effect.

Nineteen people at Nucor-Yamoto Steel, five miles east of Blytheville, were exposed to chlorine dioxide, a chemical used to control bacteria in water treatment systems.

"With chlorine gas, one of the big concerns is going to be respiratory, which is your breathing. So, we were watching for symptoms of swelling in the nose or throat. And then also swelling within the lungs," said Jennifer Young.

The Blytheville Fire Department set up a decontamination tent outside the hospital's emergency room.

Specifics on the workers injuries weren't released, but we're told nine people were admitted for observation and two were taken to another hospital.

Monday, a spokesperson with Nucor-Yamoto said the victims were employees and contractors, but did not say what they were doing or where in the sprawling plant they were when the gas leak occurred.

Ironically, the Great River Medical Center took part in a disaster drill in April using the scenario of a hazardous material spill.

Jennifer Young said the hospital staff handled the "real thing" in stride Sunday morning.

"They didn't bat an eye. They did just a phenomenal job," said Jennifer Young.

We're told the plant is reviewing what happened Sunday morning.

The steel mill is still up and running, but the equipment involved in the chlorine dioxide leak has been taken out of service.