March 23, 2022

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London Aquatics Centre: ‘Major incident reported over suspected gas release’

Emergency services respond to a ‘major incident’ at the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford, treating ‘a number of patients’, on Wednesday 23 March.

Stratford London Fire

Image courtesy of London Fire Brigade

A major incident had been declared at the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Park. The area was cordoned off and evacuated. London Fire Brigade said it dealt with a ‘chemical incident’ and that a number of patients were treated for breathing difficulties. The incident is now over and there is no further danger to the public.

Around 200 people were evacuated from the building after a large amount of chlorine gas was released. In total, around 50 people were treated for ‘breathing difficulties’, with a further 29 needing hospital treatment at Homerton Hospital and Newham Hospital.

A London Fire Brigade statement said: “Due to a chemical reaction a high quantity of chlorine gas was released inside the centre.

“Fire crews used fans to ventilate the premises. Once low levels were reported on our detection equipment we handed the centre back to the building owners.

“The Brigade was called at 09:45 and the incident was over by 15:29. Fire crews from Stratford and surrounding fire stations were at the scene.”

Commander Shaun Coltress told the BBC during the incident: “We’ve not taken that decision lightly, we’ve got our scientific adviser and our hazardous materials adviser on scene.”

Local people were urged to keep their doors and windows closed for the “next few hours”, but Commander Coltress stressed people living nearby should not be worried.

“We’ve got the right people here, we’re used to responding to chemical incidents, we’ve taken the right advice, we’ve got the right cordons in place.”

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park tweeted: ‘This morning involving the release of a gas. The area has been cordoned off and evacuated. We’re working with emergency services on site. There are a number of casualties with breathing difficulties being treated by @Ldn_Ambulance.’

It added, on Thursday 24 March that the park is now ‘open as usual’, however ‘the Aquatics Centre will be closed today following yesterday’s incident. Our thoughts are with those affected and our thanks go to the emergency services for their prompt action.’

London Ambulance said in a statement: “We sent a significant number of resources including 13 ambulance crews, advanced paramedics, two medics in fast response cars, two incident response officers, a medical incident advisor and members of our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART).

“We also dispatched medics from London’s Air Ambulance.

“Our crews took 29 patients to hospital and assessed a further 48 patients at the scene. The majority of patients were reporting minor breathing difficulties.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted: “I remain in close contact with our emergency services who are dealing with a gas-related incident at the London Aquatics Centre this morning.”

Acute exposure to chlorine gas at high levels can cause dyspnea, violent cough, nausea, vomiting, light-headedness, headache, chest pain, abdominal discomfort, and corneal burns, in addition to the same symptoms of low-level acute exposure. Chronic exposure to chlorine gas can lead to chest pain, cough, sore throat, and hemoptysis.

The Aquatics Centre was one of the main venues for the London Olympic Games in 2012, and was used for swimming, diving and synchronised swimming.

Since the Games, the venue has been modified and re-opened for public use in 2014.

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