EPA and other agencies cleaning up mercury spill

MASS CITY — Representatives from Ontonagon County Emergency Management and the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency following an accidental mercury spill at an abandoned garage and vacant lot in Mass City. The spill was small, has been contained and is not a threat to the surrounding neighborhood.

The incident was first reported via law enforcement on July 28th and quickly worked its way through the emergency response system resulting in the arrival of the Health Department, EPA and hazardous materials cleanup crews shortly thereafter. Following mitigation efforts, the effects of the spill have been minimized and both physical contamination of the property, a nearby home and adjacent vacant lot as well as air quality are being monitored by specialized equipment.

“This is a perfect example of how different agencies support each other during an incident,” said Mike Kocher, Emergency Services Director for Ontonagon County. “Everything starts and ends locally but when the call goes out, we coordinate, communicate and cooperate with a variety of response organizations to bring things to a successful conclusion, with the ultimate goal always being the safety of our residents.”

According to reports, the initial incident occurred when children entered the abandoned repair facility garage and discovered mercury in a small bottle. Their home is also being monitored for mercury levels. Mercury is an element that has been used in thermometers, electric switches, lights, batteries and even in paper processing. Both the EPA and Western UP Health Department have published guidelines concerning what to do if involved in a larger spill. These include never using a vacuum cleaner or broom to clean up, never pouring it down a drain and never walking through it which can contaminate shoes and track it elsewhere.

“Mercury has interesting properties making it attractive to kids” said Pete Baril, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Western UP Health Department. “As interesting and harmless as it may appear, mercury gives off toxic vapors that can be damaging to one’s health, especially children. We cannot stress enough the importance of getting rid of mercury sources in your home.” Baril continues, “If you have mercury in your home secure it and call your local health department for advice. We would much prefer to work with you on safely getting it out of your home than on a spill situation that can become very complicated very quickly.”