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Taneytown playground chemical scare, children uninjured

Taneytown playground chemical scare, children uninjured
A playground in Taneytown that was bleached to kill weeds on Wednesday, June 20. (Courtesy photo / Mike Ferrare)

JoAnn Ferrare and Jennifer Farrow didn’t think twice about taking a group of children from their day cares to the park in Taneytown on June 20.

They do it all the time and playgrounds are made for children to play on.

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“We’ve been there every day this week,” Ferrare said. “That’s how we get them out and let them run out their energy, you know. And there’s nice equipment over there.”

And when they arrived at Taneytown’s Roth Avenue Park at about 9:45 a.m. everything seemed normal. Until it wasn’t.

“The kids were playing and my little baby, he’s 2 years old, he had fallen,” Farrow told the Times. “He came over to me and had blood coming all out of his mouth. So of course I wiped him all up and then I noticed the side of his shirt had bleach marks down it.”

No worries, Farrow said she thought, “Maybe dad did the laundry and threw bleach in there.”

But this was no laundry issue, nor was it limited to one child.

“All of the sudden all the other kids start coming up and they have bleach marks on them,” Farrow explained. “Everybody had bleach on them, or bleach marks.”

“So then JoAnn (Ferrare) and I walked over there,” she said. “And we could smell bleach.”

Ferrare said they attempted to brush the white splotches from the children’s clothes, but were unsuccessful.

“I tried brushing them off of the one little girl because it was all over the back of her,” Ferrare told the Times. “It looked like powder at this point, and I kept brushing and it wouldn’t come off.”

Farrow called the Taneytown Police Department because “at first I thought some kid did it, threw bleach all over,” she said. The department confirmed that an officer responded to the Roth Avenue Park.

Eventually Kevin Smeak, Taneytown director of public works, came to the playground to explain.

“He said, ‘Well this is what happened: We sprayed the park early this morning,’ ” Ferrare said of her and Farrow’s interaction with Smeak.

“OK, you sprayed the park, what did you spray it with?” Ferrare recalled saying.

Smeak said his department sprayed parks and playgrounds with bleach, according to Ferrare.

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“Why would you spray bleach in a park, where kids play all the time?” Ferrare remembers her and Farrow asking.

According to the two day care providers, Smeak said they had sprayed early in the morning and expected the bleach to dry up quickly.

“There was no signs, nothing out there saying they sprayed,” Farrow said.

Ferrare added: “Obviously it was still wet if it was bleaching all their clothes.”

The city of Taneytown confirmed that it sprayed the parks with bleach. It had been common practice for public works employees to spray the parks and playgrounds with bleach to kill weeds — as an herbicide. They use bleach because “it’s less dangerous” than other weed killers, said Jim Wieprecht, acting city manager.

The city routinely sprays early in the morning and “usually it dries up before anybody’s using (the playgrounds),” Wieprecht said. But on June 20, “people were in contact with the bleach” and there was clothing damage and stains.

Wieprecht said there were no injuries reported. Ferrare and Farrow confirmed that none of the kids were injured, though Ferrare said she got a chemical burn on her hand from attempting to brush the bleach from children’s clothing.

“It just burned my skin,” Ferrare said. “By the next day it was kinda gone.”

Later that day, the city posted signs warning of chemical spray, closing the playgrounds for the remainder of the day and overnight.

Taneytown has also amended its weed-spraying policy, Wieprecht said.

From now on when the city sprays, the interim city manager said, Taneytown will post notices and close the playgrounds until they are deemed safe.

“There’s one playground that has a fence already and on that one we’ll just close the gate and post a ‘playground closed’ notice,” he said. “The other playgrounds don’t have fences on them, so we’re going to put posts in the ground and run caution tape around the perimeter and post a notice, as well.”

Wieprecht also said the city is looking into another product to use as an herbicide. City staff are waiting on a recommendation from the Maryland Department of Agriculture as to which product they should to kill weeds.

Though Farrow and Ferrare are satisfied with the city’s policy change, they said they were angry that it happened in the first place.

“Any place that sprays needs to put signs up,” Farrow said. “Everybody knows that.”

Farrow also took it a step further, she called Taneytown and demanded that the city pay for all the children’s bleached clothing.

“I waited until two days later and I called the town and I told them I want their clothes replaced,” Farrow said.

“And be lucky that’s all you’re getting out of this,” she said, suggesting one of the children under her supervision could have ingested bleach.

The city is cooperating with Farrow’s request, Wieprecht said. It plans to reimburse the children’s parents.

If a child consumes a small amount of bleach they may experience mouth irritation and vomiting, according to National Capital Poison Control. Serious problems can occur if a child ingest large amounts of bleach, but that’s unlikely, the poison control site explains.

Taneytown used a product called Liquichlor 12.5%. It’s unclear whether the effects of this product, if ingested, are any different than bleach.

Regardless of the product, Farrow and Ferrare said they are angry the children were exposed to the chemicals. It could’ve jeopardized their child care practices, they said.

“I had to call the Maryland State Department of Education, who licenses us, and make a report with them,” Ferrare said. “If these kids would’ve got burns underneath their clothes, we would’ve been responsible,” Farrow added.

A scare averted because the children were OK.

“When it comes to children, they’re my life,” Ferrare said. “I was more concerned about the kids than anything.”

A playground in Taneytown shows signs of bleaching on Wednesday, June 20.
A playground in Taneytown shows signs of bleaching on Wednesday, June 20. (Mike Ferrare/Courtesy Photo)
A sign posted on one of the playgrounds in Taneytown on Wednesday, June 20. Signs were posted in the afternoon after children were exposed to bleach sprayed by the city to kill weeds.
A sign posted on one of the playgrounds in Taneytown on Wednesday, June 20. Signs were posted in the afternoon after children were exposed to bleach sprayed by the city to kill weeds. (Mike Ferrare/Courtesy Photo.)
A label of the bleach product Taneytown used to spray the city's public playgrounds for weeds. Children were exposed to the bleach on Wednesday, June 20 before the city changed its spraying procedure.
A label of the bleach product Taneytown used to spray the city's public playgrounds for weeds. Children were exposed to the bleach on Wednesday, June 20 before the city changed its spraying procedure. (City of Taneytown/Courtesy Photo)
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