Aquatic center staff gets praise for spill reaction

A hydrochloric acid spill delayed the opening of the Marietta Aquatic Center for more than an hour Wednesday, but no pool patrons were in danger, officials said.

“It was confined to a mechanical room where there was no public access,” Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham said. “The aquatic center did an excellent job of handling the situation.”

Pool manager Caleb Darling said the spill was discovered shortly before the center was scheduled to open at noon. A tube in the Stenner pump connected to the younger children’s splash area had broken and the acid, used to regulate the pH balance in the water, was leaking onto the floor.

Following their standard procedures, Darling and the assistant manager turned away early arriving patrons and sent the remaining staff to the lower parking lot.

“We threw down soda ash to neutralize the acid, and then once the acid is neutralized, we can break it up, clean it up, and then we’re ready to go,” Darling said.

No pool-goers were exposed to the acid, which can cause burns and has potentially dangerous fumes, Durham said.

Firefighters arrived to finish securing the leak, Durham said. A backup pump was activated and patrons were allowed in around 1:15 p.m. while City of Marietta employees were removing the solidified waste and hosing down the floor of the mechanical room.

Caldwell resident Jim Curnutte, 71, was parked with his three grandchildren near the mechanical room where the leak happened and moved his vehicle away from it out of concern over fumes from the acid.

“I built swimming pools for almost 25 years,” he said. “I’ve been in acid spills; I’ve been in chlorine spills.”

After waiting for a while in the lot, Curnutte and his grandchildren went for a bite to eat and returned just as the pool was reopening.

The pump itself wasn’t damaged, and the only repair expense should be for the purchase of the replacement for the tube, about $20, said Mike Bishman, owner of Professional Pool Management, which manages the aquatic center. The tubes are replaced every year, but breaks still happen occasionally, he said, although they don’t usually result in leaks of this magnitude.