MOUNT VERNON — Emergency officials say a hazmat incident involving mercury which occurred April 9 in Mount Vernon was handled quickly and safely, but the situation provided an opportunity to remind the public of the dangers of dealing with the substance and the importance of handling mercury safely and appropriately.
“We responded to the report of a mercury spill at 1661 Venture Drive at 1:06 p.m.,” said Chris Menapace, Mount Vernon assistant fire chief.
The Knox County Emergency Management Agency was also dispatched to the scene. Deputy EMA Director Matthew Sturgeon responded. He said the spill occurred at the offices of the Visiting Nurse Association, and did not affect any neighboring businesses in the commercial building.
“This was a relatively simple and isolated incident to contain,” Menapace said. “An old-fashioned blood pressure sphygmomanometer had fallen off the wall and broken, spilling mercury over a desktop, and the floor in a 20-square-foot area.
“Because of the nature of this office, with staff coming and going into the homes of patients, we followed the recommendations of the Ohio EPA to close and evacuate the building,” he said.
The evacuation was completed at 1:45 p.m.
The HVAC system in the building was shut down to prevent the mercury from blowing into other office spaces. The heat was also kept off to keep the ambient temperature in the building below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
“At 70 degrees [the mercury] evaporates and there are airborne particles,” Menapace said.
Once the building was closed and evacuated, Elemental Services in Dublin was contacted. The company specializes in hazmat cleanup of substances such as mercury, according to Menapace.
Sturgeon said the cleaning firm has a variety of specialized resources to clean up mercury safely. The broken sphygmomanometer and all the remaining mercury were taken by the firm and disposed of safely. The building remained closed over the weekend.
“Cleanup was complete Sunday afternoon, and they reopened Monday,” Menapace said. “They had documentation to show it had all been cleaned up.”
Sturgeon said mercury poses danger to people.
“The most at-risk populations are pregnant women and children,” he said.
Sturgeon said preplanning is critical for businesses which have mercury in any amount on their premises.
“I would like to stress the importance of having a plan as to how you’re going to handle a mercury spill if you are using equipment that contains mercury,” Sturgeon said Wednesday. “It’s very important to have a plan as to how you are going to deal with a spill. Prevention is always the most effective method to deal with these incidents.”
He said that ideally, businesses should eliminate as much mercury from their facilities as possible.
“There are several alternatives to equipment that uses mercury and as this equipment is replaced, those alternatives should be considered,” Sturgeon said.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy said the cooperation between his department and the EMA was extremely effective during the incident.
“I think we are having good progress dealing with these incidents,” Christy told a meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee on Wednesday afternoon.