What started out as an innocent attempt to send something in the mail ended up mobilizing local, state and federal officials into a hazardous materials response Monday. Iowa Department of Natural Resources environmental specialist Adam Broughton says the problem was a package mailed from a teacher in California to John Werner, a retired teacher in Clinton. A glass vial of mercury in the package apparently broke open. He says it originally broke at the loading dock of the postal facility. He says it contaminated a mail delivery vehicle and the home of the Clinton teacher. Broughton says it was a small amount of mercury, but enough to raise concern. He says mercury is difficult to deal with because of its toxicity. He says it can be fairly toxic even at low levels and he says not many people want to deal with its cleanup. Short-term mercury exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased blood pressure or heart rate, skin or eye irritation, and lung damage. Long-term exposure can affect the brain, causing tremors, memory problems and changes in vision or hearing. Werner’s house has been sealed until it can be cleaned up. Broughton says homeowners should aware of the dangers of mercury. He says there are concerns with every day thermometers if they have the silver mercury in them. He says if the material in the thermometers is red, then it’s a different material. Broughton says you should take thermometers with mercury in them should be taken to a regional household hazardous material center for proper disposal.
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