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Willmar Hazardous Materials Emergency Assistance Team members place chemicals believed to have been used Tuesday by a Willmar city worker in a special container for their safe removal from the wading pool at Rice Park. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Willmar, Minn., worker resting after exposure to chlorine fumes

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WILLMAR -- A Willmar Public Works Department employee rested at home Thursday after he was exposed to chlorine fumes while performing maintenance at the city-owned Rice Park wading pool Tuesday afternoon.

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City officials have not released the name of the employee.

The pool had been closed for the maintenance work, and no children were endangered, according to Willmar Police.

Ron Gilbertson, public works superintendent, said the employee was replacing a screen in the chlorinator. Chlorine is a disinfectant used in water purification.

The worker placed the old screen in a 5-gallon bucket and went out of the building. The bucket also contained some chlorine slurry.

When the worker returned to the building, he caught a whiff of the chlorine that came from the screen in the bucket. The worker called Public Works Foreman Scott Ledeboer who was nearby.

Ledeboer found the employee on the ground coughing and spitting and called 911 shortly after 1 p.m. The worker was transported to Rice Hospital by ambulance while police, fire and the Kandiyohi County Rescue and the Hazardous Materials Emergency Assistance Team investigated and handled the chemical.

Police cordoned off the area around the park, located between Second and Third Streets and Rice and Kandiyohi Avenues. About 10 or 11 residents located downwind from the pool evacuated their homes at police request for about 90 minutes, and officers diverted traffic.

Gilbertson said the employee was treated at the hospital and released Wednesday morning. Gilbertson said the employee was told to rest.

He is fine and took Thursday off and may also take today off as well.

Gilbertson said the employee has been performing maintenance for 15 years and normally swishes the old screen in the pool but failed to do so this time.

"It's just a good reminder that when you're working with that stuff you have to be cautious even if you do it every day,'' he said.

-- David Little

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