ROSEMONT, Ill., Dec. 7 (UPI) -- A chlorine gas leak hospitalized over a dozen people at a plush animal costume convention in Illinois early Sunday, and police are investigating the incident as an intentional criminal act.
Authorities evacuated the Hyatt Regency O'Hare hotel in Rosemont, Ill., of thousands of people after first responders discovered a broken device housing a chlorine-containing chemical. Nineteen people were sent to nearby hospitals after complaining of nausea and dizziness, according to Rosemont Public Safety.
The Midwest FurFest 2014 -- described on the convention's website as a celebration of "art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals" -- was being held at the hotel at the time of the incident. According to a statement posted to Furfest.org, the first complaint of a chemical odor came around 12:45 a.m., and the hotel was evacuated at 1:10 a.m.
Chris Delaney told the Chicago Tribune he smelled chlorine while leaving the building. "It was like when you walk into a pool. It was pungent," he said.
Evacuees dressed in various plush animal costumes stood in the cold while others sought refuge in adjacent buildings. Hazardous materials technicians located the device from which the gas originated and gave the all-clear at 4:21 a.m.
Police said the way in which the chlorine was released suggested the act was intentional and that the matter is being investigated as criminal activity.
A statement on FurFest's website indicated the convention would run on its regular schedule for the rest of Sunday.
"Because this was an unforeseen possibly criminal act, Midwest FurFest will not be offering refunds, nor will the Hyatt Regency O'Hare be comping any rooms," the statement said.
According to the New York Department of Health, chlorine is a common chemical used to disinfect water and sanitize waste, but as a gas it is in its most toxic form and can actually be weaponized. Breathing in high levels of chlorine gas could cause a condition known as pulmonary edema, a fluid build-up in the lungs that can lead to respiratory distress, cardiac arrest and death.