LENEXA, Kan. — Struggling to breathe, throwing up, burning eyes and passing out. Those are the side effects many youth swimmers felt after being at a Johnson County aquatic center.

Swimmers were not only armed with the usual swim caps and towels but also oxygen canisters at the USA Swimming Central Zone Championships, made up of the best swimmers under 14 in the region. 

“I feel like once I get out of the water, I still can’t breathe,” Riley Dunnett, a swimmer from Illinois, said.  

“The air is so thick,” another swimmer said.  

“We should be inside, but the air quality is so freaking bad you can’t be inside. The kids can’t be inside. We can’t be inside because people are getting sick and passing out,” Alicin Skinner, a parent of a swimmer, said.

Parents said multiple kids were taken to the hospital. FOX4 reached out to the Johnson County Med-ACT, and we are waiting to hear back.

Skinner said kids have passed out, thrown up and some swimmers were forced to stop competing. 

In fact, the conditions were so poor, the entire team of Iowa pulled out of the competition. Races on Friday night were stopped, and race day was shortened on Saturday.

“We’ve put so much energy and practice, and we’re going like six or seven times a week to swim, and to have our season end at a pool we’re not going to get best times at is just super disappointing,” Maggie Schlippe, who swam in the competition, said. 

“It’s completely disappointing. They work their tails off all year to get here, to get to this level of a swim meet and then perform poorly because of the environment,” Skinner said.

FOX4 reached out to the Shawnee Mission School District, and they say they are aware of the concerns and worked with the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District (JCPRD) overnight Friday to have the aquatic center back open Saturday.

The Shawnee Mission School District and JCPRD sent FOX4 the following statement: 

On Friday, August 4, 2023, the Shawnee Mission School District and Johnson County Park and Recreation District were made aware of athletes reporting symptoms of illness at the Shawnee Mission Aquatic Center.

These symptoms were reported during the Central Zones 14&U Championship Meet, hosted by the Kansas City Blazers and organized by USA Swimming. All events outside of Shawnee Mission School District are scheduled and operated by Johnson County Park and Recreation District.

We observed and received reports of attendees experiencing eye and respiratory irritation. Two competitors were transported to the hospital to seek treatment.

Immediately upon receiving reports of safety concerns, procedures were put into action to ensure the safety of athletes and spectators. Chemical levels within the competition and instructional pools were tested and reported to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE), and reporting continued through the duration of the meet.

The event was stopped in the evening on Friday, August 4 so that concerns raised could be fully investigated and addressed. Crews worked overnight to make sure all mechanical systems were operating for competition to continue safely, with modifications made to the meet format and schedule.

The Shawnee Mission School District, Johnson County Park and Recreation District, and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment are working collaboratively to investigate the cause of the issue.

Safety is a priority for any activity at the Shawnee Mission Aquatic Center.