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 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.
Pamela Burnett of unincorporated Warren Township said she was headed to her job in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when she drove through the toxic cloud. Burnett said she wasn’t sure if it was smoke or dust from the shoulder of the road.
“It kept on getting bigger and bigger — this wasn’t going away. I tried to slow down and not go through it,” Burnett told reporters at the scene. “The next thing I knew, I couldn’t breathe. It was such a strong smell. I thought to myself, ‘Lord this is it. I’m done now.’”
Burnett, 57, said she pulled off the road while “spitting and coughing” and called 911. She was taken to a hospital for treatment. Her condition wasn’t immediately known.
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.