October 26, 2014

Elyria
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County prevents family from entering house

CARLISLE TWP. — Even if the family that was forced out its mercury-contaminated home Wednesday wanted to go back, county health officials have taken steps to make certain it can’t.

On Thursday, members of the General Health District’s board unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the county prosecutor to seek a court-ordered lockdown of the house.

“We have no reason to believe that the family won’t cooperate,” said James Boddy, director of environmental health for the General Health District. “But we don’t want anybody in the house or taking items out of the house.”

Local and state emergency response officials honed in on the home Wednesday after being notified that a Midview High School student had spilled a small amount of mercury at the school while showing it off to classmates.

The classroom was sealed and cleaned, and classmates were scanned and checked out OK.

But after talking with the boy, and an Ohio EPA emergency response coordinator learned that there was a lot more mercury at his Butternut Ridge home.

Officials were shocked to find a large peanut-butter-sized jar of mercury spilled on the floor of basement storage room of the home.

“Anything over two tablespoons (of mercury) is considered a health risk,” Boddy said. “There may have been an excess of four to five pounds.” 

A family of six had moved into the home about a year ago after the death of their grandfather. It was about that time that the mercury was spilled, family members told county health officials.

The family’s four children range in age from 11 to 17, and they were instructed by their parents not to go near the mercury, Boddy said.

Mercury can be absorbed by the skin and ingested, but its primary route of entry into the human body is by inhalation, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Exposure to the metal affects the central nervous system, although pregnant women and children younger than 6 are considered to be a higher risk of adverse effects.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken over the case, and its workers will make their first attempt to scan the inside of the home today to determine what needs to be done to clean it up.

Boddy said it is too early to say when the family would be allowed to return.

On Thursday, the mother and the four children submitted urine samples to be tested for mercury poisoning — the results of which won’t be available for a few days. The father of the family is scheduled to return home today from an out-of-town job, and he will be tested, too, Boddy said.

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