A chemical emergency struck Salisbury, suburb north of the Adelaide capital of the state of South Australia on Thursday when a five-year-old kid, sliding down in a popular playground, came into contact with a some sticky black substance.
It is not clear what happened to the kid, but a few in the vicinity could apparently figure out something had gone wrong.
Health authorities described the chemical as poisonous if swallowed and also toxic if absorbed through the skin. They have identified the substance as a type of organophosphate compound.
Organophosphate (OP) compounds are a diverse group of chemicals used in both domestic and industrial settings. Examples of organophosphates include: insecticides (malathion, parathion, diazinon, fenthion, dichlorvos, chlorpyrifos), nerve gases (soman, sarin, tabun, VX), ophthalmic agents (echothiophate, isoflurophate), and antihelmintics (trichlorfon). Herbicides (tribufos [DEF], merphos) are tricresyl phosphate-containing industrial chemicals.
Immediately thereafter 61 primary school children aged eight and nine and 14 adults were taken to Adelaide hospitals.
Of those taken to hospital only four children were admitted overnight because they felt unwell. They have since been discharged.
However a health department spokesman said all those involved had been advised to watch for further symptoms including nausea, headaches or feeling generally unwell.
"If they or any people who have been to the St Kilda playground have those symptoms they should present to hospital for a check-up," the spokesman said.
Police and Country Fire Service volunteers have conducted a major search of the St Kilda playground and samples have been taken of the substance for further investigations.
Salisbury Mayor Tony Zapia said the foreshore park was a popular meeting point for local youth and that security cameras would be installed in four to six weeks to monitor all activity in the area.
There was a lead poisoning scare in US school a few years ago when cracked and peeling paint on some windows in some schools had tested positive for lead poisoning.
Dr. Robert Adler, professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California and an expert witness had then observed a young boy running his hands over the classroom's contaminated windowsill and putting his hand into his mouth. The child, Adler noted, had just "ingested lead that will absorb into his body and stay there for many years." Adler added, "It doesn't take much lead to poison a child."
At a second elementary school in the Pasadena-San Marino area, investigators found children ingesting lead through hand-to-mouth contact at playground picnic tables. And at a school for children with learning disabilities, investigators found bright blue paint chips loaded with lead that had fallen off a wooden lattice and littered the playground.
Soil on playgrounds that are near freeways where decades of lead-bearing exhaust fumes have created lead deposits could be another source of toxicity for children, it was then warned. Soil often is contaminated by airborne lead particles that drop to the ground and become "a persistent, hard to remove component of the dust matrix."
Playground equipment is another possible source of lead contamination, a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed.
Factoring in amounts of lead on the equipment and children's absorption rates, CPSC researchers calculated that it would take only 15 to 30 days for kids ingesting paint chips the size of a pencil eraser to acquire lead poisoning above the 10 microgram level.