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News Releases from Region 10

Mercury incident at Banks, Oregon home requires EPA emergency cleanup

Contact Information: 
Hanady Kader EPA Public Affairs (kader.hanady@epa.gov)

(Seattle-April 17, 2015) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has completed an emergency cleanup of elemental mercury at a residential home in Banks, Oregon. EPA worked closely with state and local authorities to complete the cleanup and ensure that public health and the environment were not harmed.

On April 16, EPA received a request for assistance from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality concerning a release of elemental mercury at a residence in Banks, Oregon. Initial reports indicated that approximately two tablespoons of mercury were spilled onto the driveway. The source of the mercury is unknown. A contractor working in the house washed the driveway and further dispersed mercury into the street. EPA emergency responders assessed the contamination and completed a cleanup.

"The homeowner did the right thing by immediately notifying local authorities about the spill before the contamination spread widely," said Kathy Parker, EPA On-Scene Coordinator. "Mercury spills that are not quickly contained can endanger passersby and result in a costly cleanup. If mercury is tracked into homes, the chances of people getting sick from it are higher."

Mercury is a highly toxic substance that builds up in human body tissue. In young children, exposure to mercury can lead to learning disabilities and damage to the nervous system. In adults, exposure may cause cardiovascular and central nervous system problems. Mercury can be especially harmful if its fumes are inhaled. Vacuuming, sweeping or otherwise dispersing mercury spreads it into the air and into smaller droplets, spreading contamination and making it more difficult to clean.

Metallic mercury appears as a thick, silver colored liquid that forms small drops or beads and breaks into smaller pieces easily. Mercury in containers and other mercury-containing products should be handled with extreme care and carefully transported to a household hazardous waste facility. Spills should be reported immediately to the local fire department. Metro Central at 6161 NW 61st Ave in Portland accepts household hazardous waste.

A recent mercury spill in a Yakima, Washington home resulted in a full medical evaluation of the tenants and disposal of contaminated appliances, clothing, bedding, and carpet. EPA also excavated soil in the yard.

For information on how to handle mercury, visit http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm