Ammonia leak sends 31 to hospitals in Chicago suburb

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BEACH PARK, Ill. — Plumes of a toxic gas that leaked in a northern Chicago suburb Thursday morning sent at least 31 people to hospitals and prompted an order for residents to stay locked inside their homes with windows shut tight, officials said.

Three law enforcement officers who responded to the leak in Beach Park were among those injured and they were in good condition, Lake County Sheriff’s spokesman Christopher Covelli said. Several other people were in serious but stable condition, Covelli said.

Lake Forest Fire Chief Mike Gallo said a tractor was towing two separate 2-ton containers of anhydrous ammonia when the leak occurred around 4:30 a.m. Initial reports suggested the vehicle was involved in a crash, but Covelli later said that was not the case. The cause of the leak has not been released.

The leak created a toxic cloud that lingered over Beach Park, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of downtown Chicago.

“This is a very dangerous chemical that can cause unconscious and worst-case scenario death,” Covelli said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas that can cause breathing difficulties, burns, blisters and is fatal if breathed in high concentrations. Farmers use it to add nitrogen to soil.

Authorities said the leak was contained a few hours later and that the leaking tank was empty. Authorities were waiting for the chemical plume to dissipate.

Residents within a 1-mile radius of the leak were initially told to close their windows and remain indoors, but that order was lifted at 10 a.m., Covelli said.


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