Firefighter among the seven in the hospital with "life-threatening injuries" in the hospital after observing ammonia in Beach Park

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Ammonia, spilled from a farm tractor on a Thursday in Beach Park, sent at least 37 people to hospitals, including seven allegedly in critical condition around noon.

The overflow began at 4:30 am on Green Bay Road and 29th Street, according to Sgt. Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the sheriff's office in Lake County.

Investigators believe that a tractor towed two 2-ton tanks of anhydrous ammonia when they began to leak, and Covelli said the investigators do not believe the vehicle was involved in a traffic accident.

"Basically, the substance blew up," Covelli said, "causing the cloud to be released into the air, which is extremely dangerous."

This substance can cause "unconsciousness and in the worst case even death", said Covelli.

According to Covelli, among the injured were helpers who responded to the crime scene.

"MPs arrived at the scene – our first respondent MP – (and they) left their vehicles to try and help the people standing on the scene, including those on the floor," Covelli said. "The deputies were immediately overwhelmed by the fumes that were in the air.

"These MPs had to retire and leave the area. Both were subsequently taken to a local hospital, treated and released. "

Covelli added that a total of 37 people were taken to hospitals because they inhaled these toxic fumes. Of these 37, there are seven who are in critical condition and (what) are considered life threatening injuries. "

Pamela Burnett, 57, said she drove to her job in a grocery store in Kenosha as she walked through the cloud of toxic gas.

Burnett, an unincorporated Warren Township resident, said she was in Green Bay Road when she saw the car in front of her brake and slowed. She added that she could see a cloud, but she was not sure if it was smoke or dust from someone peeling off the roadside.

"It was getting bigger and bigger – that did not go away. I tried to slow down and not go through, "she said, but it was too late.

"It was not smoking. I thought that was a kind of chemical, "Burnett added. "The next thing I knew, I could not breathe. It was such a strong smell. I thought, Lord, that's it. I'm done now. & # 39;

Burnett said to a group of media gathering near the scene and said she broke the road while "spitting and coughing" and called 911. She added that she saw a man lying in the street nearby.

Burnett was taken to the Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville and she said a policeman was also treated.

According to officials at the scene, preliminary information shows that anhydrous ammonia had leaked out when the tractor was traveling on Green Bay Road in the area of ​​29th Street. The victims were transported to the Advocate Condell Medical Center at Libertyville, Vista East Medical Center, Waukegan. St. Catherine Hospital in Kenosha, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and the Naval Station Great Lakes Hospital.

According to Covelli, a total of 11 firefighters and three police officers were sent for treatment, including a firefighter / EMT from the Newport Township Fire Department, which was in critical condition.

According to Covelli, most victims were determined to have "non-life threatening" conditions, and several dozen others were evaluated by paramedics but not transported.

Mike Galllo, a division manager of the Lake Forest Fire Department, said it seems that a value associated with the two containers pulled by the tractor has failed.

Gallo added that farmers often use the chemical to aerate the soil, and from 9 am both tanks were emptied of ammonia.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control say that anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas that can cause breathing difficulties, burns, blisters and is lethal when inhaled in high concentrations.

Several schools were shut down and a kilometer radius was set up, requiring residents to protect themselves by closing windows and turning off their heating or air conditioning. At 10 o'clock in the morning the answering service was canceled.

Shortly afterwards, Bidzinski looked out of her windows and saw some of her neighbors go and thought that she should, but in the end she decided to stay simple, she said.

"I saw geese and birds in the pond behind my terraced house and they looked good," said Bidzinski. "I told my friend we should stay fine, but I will not lie – it was scary."

Gallo said the officers had raised the response to a five-alarm ambulance to bring ambulances, and the Cook County authorities were asked to send more ambulances.

There were 20 different departments responding to the call, and according to Gallo, there were 140 people. Firefighters in full hazardous materials equipment were on site after staff sprayed water on the containers to reduce gas leakage.

"It was very hard to try to hold back the gas," Gallo said. At 11am, there was still a quarter mile radius around, and Gallo added that anyone in the area who has inhalation problems should call 911 to transport them.

Burnett said she felt fine except for the occasional cough. She was actually worried about the other people after learning that some people were in critical condition.

"I just hope the other will be fine," she said.

Look for updates.

Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Frank Abderholden is a reporter for Lake County News-Sun. The freelance reporter Yadira Sanchez-Olson contributed to this.

kdouglas@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ 312BreakingNews

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