The Ingham County Health Department has found high levels of mercury in a vacuum used to clean up a mercury spill at the East Lansing Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Christine Hendrickson, a spokesperson for the Health Department says the vacuum was tested four months after the spill happened. It had been kept in the plant’s maintenance shop since it was used to clean up the contamination in November.
The Health Department began its investigation last Thursday, after employees came forward to the East Lansing Department of Public Works to report the November 22, 2013 spill. The state says someone also called a pollution tip line Thursday, and reported 1.5 pounds of mercury spilled in the plant's maintenance shop.
Todd Sneathen, Director of Public Works & Environmental Services for the city of East Lansing, says the mercury was released, while an employee was trying to get a device called a “manometer” to work. The instrument is used to measure pressure. “Its from the early 70's is about when it was installed, and it has an actual area that you can fill and use to pour mercury into it.”
The Health Department says the spill was small, roughly a few tablespoons. Hendrickson says tests taken last Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday reveal trace levels of mercury remain in the building. “The health department is continuing to test the air, monitoring the air for high levels of mercury. Thus far, last week, up even through today, we continue to find low readings. We don't detect any kind of imminent public health threat.”
The city of East Lansing is conducting an investigation to figure out why the mercury spilled, and who failed to report it immediately. Sneathen says, “We've been interviewing everybody and trying to find out what the situation was, what actually occurred. This is going to take us a while to figure this out."
Sneathen says 16 people work at the plant. The Health Department has offered to consult with those concerned about possible mercury exposure. Sneathen says the city has arranged for anyone concerned, to have a blood test. “This is a hazardous material. That's why we've made it available to them that they can set up appointments if they're concerned about mercury exposure."