Mercury-related incidents on the rise since last year

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is warning residents of the risks of mercury following an increase in incidents of the substance.

So far in 2006, there have been nine mercury-related incidents compared with 16 throughout all of last year, the department stated Friday in a news release.

All the mercury spills involved children or teenagers who found small amounts of mercury and took it home or to school.

No medical-related problems as a resulted from the exposures, according to department spokesman Kerry Cordray.

Some of those exposed to mercury had blood work done and found there was a trace amount of mercury in their blood, but it posed no significant health risks, Cordray said.

Health risks of mercury can range from short-term nausea to permanent nerve damage. Mercury can be especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.

Cordray said it is difficult to determine a pattern in mercury exposure. One reason for the increase in incidents may be from a greater awareness of mercury, and thus more people are reporting incidents, he said.

Mercury can be found in items such as thermometers, fluorescent lamps and school science labs. The department encouraged residents to quit using items containing mercury and replace them with mercury-free alternatives, such as digital thermometers.

In one incident, the department responded to Charleston, Mo., on Feb. 15 for a mercury release that occurred Dec. 29 at the Odd Fellows meeting lodge. Because it was not immediately reported, it was possible many people were exposed to the mercury.

"The Charleston spill pointed out how critical it is to notify authorities quickly after any mercury is spilled," said Alan Reinkemeyer, director of the department's Environmental Services Program.

In the episode, some children found mercury in the pendulum of an old grandfather clock at the lodge. They removed it, played with it and took some home. Lodge members tried to clean up the mercury with a vacuum cleaner, which the agency said makes a spill worse.

As mercury is most toxic when inhaled, vacuuming a spill can vaporize mercury and spread it into the air.

In the event of a small spill, residents can clean it up.

Rubber gloves and safety glasses should be used when cleaning up mercury, which can be done by sucking up mercury beads with an eye dropper or using the sticky side of duct tape.

Double-bag all mercury-contaminated materials with heavy resealable plastic bags or airtight plastic containers and dispose of it in a landfill.

Anyone with questions about the process should call the department's Environmental Response 24-hour hotline at (573) 634-2436.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

335-6611 extension 127

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