Harrison County

Gulf Islands Waterpark wants to make sure chlorine incident ‘never happens again,’ official says

People relax and cool off while floating down the Lazy Pearl River, one of the many water attractions at Gulf Islands Water Park in Gulfport.
People relax and cool off while floating down the Lazy Pearl River, one of the many water attractions at Gulf Islands Water Park in Gulfport. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Gulf Islands Water Park is open again after a chlorine mishap and a contract repairman’s error injected about 12 gallons of chlorine into a pool on Monday, releasing a pungent, irritating gas.

A total of 31 people complained of side effects and were treated by several emergency-response teams. Of those, 12 asked to be taken to a hospital, according to Gulfport Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt.

“It’s safe now and I feel terrible those people got hurt,” Gulf Islands General Manager Mark Moore said Tuesday.

“We went through several scenarios in testing safety systems last night, recreated the problem and solved it to make sure it would never happen again.”

Those who suffered strong side effects should be feeling better in a few days, he said.

Moore said people reacted differently to the unexpected release of chlorine into the water.

“Some were coughing and some just walked away and sat down a few minutes,” he said.

Moore simplified a technical explanation by saying it’s similar to what happens when you put liquid in a straw and a finger over one end. When you release the finger, the liquid is released.

“A vacuum got released when a valve got released, and that’s what created it,” Moore said.

The release injected more chlorine than one would normally find at a swimming pool, the fire chief said.

The first chlorine release occurred in a back portion of the Lazy Pearl River. That attraction, popular among children and adults alike, is longer than three football fields and allows people to float in tubes around all of the park’s attractions. As chlorine was being injected, Beyerstedt said, a “bubble” of about two gallons of chlorine formed and popped.

The second incident occurred later in the afternoon when a worker with a contract repair company mistakenly turned on equipment that should not have been turned on until the park was closed for the night, he said.

Gulfport firefighters, American Medical Response ambulance service and park safety personnel tended to those who complained of side effects, he said.

Chlorine can cause eyes to burn and water, nose and throat discomfort, blurred vision, tightness of chest, difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing, vomiting and nausea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children and people with respiratory issues can have more serious side effects. Chlorine produces an acid that can damage moist tissues. It is heavier than air and settles in low-lying areas, spreading rapidly.

The water park offers several attractions for different ages and adventurous interests. There’s a zipline park, a roller coaster park and slides that use mats or rafts. There also are attractions for young children.

The park is off Interstate 10 near Canal Road.

The park is one of several family attractions on the Mississippi Coast.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews