Two Injured in Hot Tub Chlorine Explosion in Surf City

Aug 07, 2013

A chlorine explosion occurring from mixing chemicals meant for a hot tub injured two in Surf City on Aug. 3.

At around 6 p.m. homeowner Russell Rocca was diluting chlorine with water when the mixture suddenly became unstable and exploded, leaving Rocca with minor burns to his face. Neighbor John Herrmann responded to the sound and attempted to enter the house to help when he realized the chemical odor was too intense.

Surf City police units responded to 15 North Third Street to find Rocca burned and having difficulties breathing, while Herrmann remained light-headed. Both were transported to Southern Ocean Medical Center. The Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. and Berkeley Hazmat assisted Surf City police, fire and EMS in the effort.

The scenario at first puzzled Joe Hutchison, who during his 15 years as owner of Hutchison’s Pool and Spas in Surf City had never heard of anything like it occurring. Hutchison went to Rocca’s address to gain more detail on the incident though Rocca was not present.

Hutchison had heard of explosions around pools before, including one story where a man died after acid washing a drained pool. A huge explosion occurred when a spark from a wet and dry vacuum ignited the acid, blowing the pool cage clear off and killing the man. Not every explosion takes a spark, however.

“It’s more common than you would think,” said Hutchison of chemical explosions. “Chlorine’s very corrosive, very dangerous. A lot of people underestimate chlorine; it’s much more dangerous than you know.”

Hutchison surmises the explosion may have occurred after volatile chemicals (possibly a chlorine-based hot tub shock treatment that also contains calcium) were placed in a bucket and water was then added, rather than vice versa, which he said should always be practiced.

“You never put a dry chemical in a pool or hot tub. You always dilute it, and if you start with a chemical in a bucket, you’re wrong. Always put the water in first, then chemicals in it.”

Otherwise a mix of different types of chlorine shocks may have been used to cause the explosive reaction.

“You shouldn’t mix different brands together. Even with a liquid shock. Calcium is a very difficult, hot chemical. When you introduce it into to a bucket with a little bit of water in it, it’s going to react and melt the bucket. You need to be carefully handling it with, say, a broom handle, even when it’s dry.”

Hutchison requires his employees to take a spa convention class in advanced water chemistry each year and classes involving any new technologies that develop in the industry.  —M.M.


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