Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Cleanup of mercury spill ends

October 18, 2000


An employee of Lawrence Paper Co. spilled an "unauthorized" supply of mercury inside the company's die shop, requiring its evacuation and triggering a weeklong cleanup effort, a company official said.

Justin Hill, the company's secretary and treasurer, said the die shop employee brought the mercury to work and then spilled a "small amount" of the toxic metal liquid.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment:Mercury breaks into small drops when spilled, and subsequent disturbances split the liquid into tiny droplets.As droplets become smaller, mercury vaporizes and can be easily inhaled.Smaller amounts of mercury from a broken thermometer, for example may pose only a nominal hazard and be relatively simple to clean up safely.For more go to /

The Oct. 9 spill prompted evacuation of the six-employee area for the day and again later in the week, Hill said, when "a few drops" that had been missed earlier by clean-up crews were discovered.

Company employees trained to handle such situations cleaned up the spill and disposed of the mercury, Hill said, and no employees were hurt. Company officials did not report the incident to health authorities.

"It seems to fall into a pretty minor category," Hill said.

Any spill of more than a pound of mercury enough to fill two tablespoons must be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. Hill said the amount spilled at Lawrence Paper did not trigger reporting requirements.

Reasons behind the spill were unclear. Hill declined to discuss the situation in detail, citing confidentiality of personnel issues.

Lawrence Paper a manufacturer of corrugated cardboard, with about 330 employees at 2801 Lakeview Road does not use mercury anywhere in the plant, Hill said. The die shop's only materials are solid metal and wood.

"The guy had no business bringing it in here," Hill said Tuesday. "He didn't have any good reason for bringing it in here. Whether it was an accident or not, he spilled it.

"He had no authorization or any good reason whatsoever to bring it in here."

Mercury the heavy liquid metal commonly used in thermometers is considered toxic. Exposure can lead to central nervous system problems, said Richard Ziesenis, director of environmental health for the Douglas County Health Department.

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