April 17, 2014

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Mercury contaminates home


Midview scare leads to ‘off the charts’ readings in Carlisle Twp.

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BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
An Eaton Township rescue truck sits outside the Midview High School after a reported mercury spill there on Wednesday.

CARLISLE TWP. — Local and state emergency response officials walked into a Butternut Ridge Road home Wednesday scanning for levels of mercury and nearly knocked each other over running out.

“My meter jumped to the highest level it could,” said Reggie Brown, an emergency response coordinator for the Ohio EPA. “I’ve never encountered levels like that before. It just peaked out.”

Brown’s Lumex meter was showing mercury vapor levels at more than 100,000 nanograms —vastly in excess of the amount the Ohio Department of Health states could pose a health risk.

Emergency crews responded to the two-story home about 10 a.m. following reports that a Midview High School student had brought a small amount of mercury to the school and spilled it on a classroom floor.

The mercury exposure to other students and staff was minimal, and adverse health effects would be unlikely, according to James Boddy, director of environmental health for the county General Health District.

As a result of the classroom spill, the shoes of two students had to be discarded.

But it was the continuing investigation — when the boy’s locker registered mercury levels off the charts — that sent investigators to the teen’s home on Butternut Ridge Road.

The boy and his three siblings, ranging from 11 to 17, had moved into the home with their mother, father, and five cats and four dogs following the death of their grandfather about a year ago, Brown said.

“Apparently, the grandfather collected mercury,” Brown said. “When he died, other family members came over to collect some of his possessions and accidentally knocked over a peanut butter-sized jar containing it. For some reason, they never cleaned it up.”

The mercury was spilled about a year ago in the home’s basement and slowly penetrated the rest of the home with its vapors.
Mercury is a silvery, odorless liquid metal that vaporizes easily and is commonly found in old thermometers and thermostats.

The most universal effect of the metal is damage to the nervous system. Following exposure, mental instability, dizziness, numbness in the limbs and personality changes such as nervousness, increased excitability or insomnia may occur, according to the Ohio EPA.

Young children and pregnant women develop symptoms of mercury poisoning more quickly and severely than adults. Brain damage is the most common birth defect.

Boddy said the family appeared OK, but blood and tissue tests would have to be carried out before any ill effects could be determined. The family was staying with friends and couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

The Midview High School classroom exposed to the metal has been isolated and will be cleaned before students will be allowed to re-enter, Boddy said.

“It’s really a blessing in disguise that the student had the incident occur and alerted us to the situation,” he said. “Over time, this could’ve been really harmful to his family."

Contact Stephen Szucs at 329-7129 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.