Northwest Iowa authorities are dealing with a rather unusual hazardous chemical spill. A large quantity of mercury was discovered in a residence in the town of Armstrong. Emmet County Emergency Management Coordinator Terry Reekers says the initial call reporting the mercury release came in shortly after eight o’clock Monday morning.
“This mercury was actually at a residence and some children had gotten into it and become exposed to it and we activated our emergency response plans,” Reekers says. “…We found a quantity of between 20 and 25 pounds of liquid mercury.”
Someone took the mercury to a business in Armstrong, but the container holding the dangerous liquid was dropped.
“There were people exposed in that business,” Reekers says, “and there’s also going to be some clean-up issues there.”
Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidney, lungs and immune system of people of all ages.
“It could be a long-term issue and especially with the children,” Reekers says. “One of the children actually did stick his fingers in the mercury and the fingers did go in the mouth so what they’re watching for now is symptoms of mercury poisoning and I guess one of the main ones is respiratory issues.”
Area hospitals have been notified to be on the look-out for people from the Armstrong area who may come in with unknown or unfamiliar maladies that could be attributed to mercury poisoning. Emergency responders from the Armstrong Fire Department and a hazardous materials team from Mason City are on-site right now and have cordoned off the area to keep people away from the home where the mercury was found and the business where it was spilled.
“We are awaiting involvement by the EPA,” Reekers says. “They’ll probably respond from Kansas for the actual clean-up.”
Reekers cautions that clean-up won’t be easy.
“Mercury stays in little balls and, as you try to collect it, it rolls ahead of you,” Reeker says, “and there’s special equipment that’s needed to actually clean up this mercury.”
According to the county’s emergency management coordinator, there will be some ground excavation involved in the clean-up, plus materials in the home that came into contact with the mercury must be removed. The business where the mercury was taken and then spilled has been closed by the fire department and won’t re-open until the EPA has completed the clean-up there.
(Reporting by Ryan Long, KICD, Spencer)