A dangerous chemical spill prompted a hazardous materials response in suburban Beach Park, forcing residents to shelter-in-place for several hours and closing schools Thursday morning.
At 5 a.m., the Lake County sheriff’s office tweeted that anyone within a one-mile radius of the intersection of North Green Bay Road and East 29th Street should stay inside with windows closed. They were also told to turn off any heating or ventilation equipment.
Just after 10 a.m., that order had been lifted, but law enforcement was still going door-to-door checking on residents.
Officials said the spill appeared to be anhydrous ammonia, “which created a dangerous chemical cloud in the area,” warning the public not to get close.
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas with “pungent, suffocating fumes,” per the CDC, which said it can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, burns and more, becoming potentially fatal at high concentrations.
At least 37 people, including two deputies who were among the first to arrive at the scene, were transported to area hospitals for evaluation, according to Sgt. Christopher Covelli with the Lake County Sheriff’s office.
Lake Forest Fire Division Chief Mike Gallo urged anyone who may be having breathing issues in the area to call 911 and get evaluated.
The Lake County sheriff’s office said the spill occurred at around 4:30 a.m. when a tractor carrying a container of anhydrous ammonia either tipped over or was involved in a crash, per a deputy who was near the scene.
“It is really important to stay inside,” Covelli said in a phone interview, adding, “Don’t come out and risk breathing in these fumes, these toxic fumes that are in the air.”
The chemical posed a “major risk,” according to Covelli, who said that when inhaled, it can cause unconsciousness and even death.
Further details, including timing on when the spill might be resolved, were not available.
“At least several more hours if not a good part of the day here,” said Divison Chief Mike Gallo with the Forest Lake Fire Department.
All schools in Beach Park School District 3 were closed Thursday because of the chemical spill, the district posted on its website, citing safety concerns for students and staff.
District 3 schools include: Beach Park Middle School, Howe Elementary School, Kenneth Murphy Elementary School, Newport Elementary School and Oak Crest Elementary School.
Zion-Benton Township High School and New Tech High @ Zion-Benton East were also closed Thursday, according to an alert from District 126, which said police advised school officials to cancel classes for the day, and that the district did not have access to buses for student transport.
Prairie Trail schools in Wadsworth were also closed, Covelli said.
Sky5 footage from above showed a large response to the hazmat situation, with several emergency vehicles on the scene.