Mass City mercury spill contained

Photo provided by Ontonagon County Emergency Services Environmental Protection Agency crews work to clean up mercury spill at an abandoned repair facility garage in Mass City.

MASS CITY — A small accidental mercury spill in Mass City has been contained after a week-long effort and was found not to have been a health threat to the surrounding neighborhood, Ontonagon County Emergency Management said Friday.

The accidental spill reportedly happened when children entered an abandoned garage in Mass City and found mercury in a small bottle. The children took it out. They had played with it for “a while” before it was reported to law enforcement Sunday night, Mike Kocher, emergency services director for Ontonagon County. They had not ingested any, Kocher said.

“They just played with it,” he said.

The report triggered responses throughout the emergency response system, including the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, Environmental Protection Agency, EGLE and hazardous materials cleanup crews.

The scene was fully remediated and cleared by Thursday evening, Kocher said.

The Health Department is one of two in the Upper Peninsula with machines allowing it to monitor the level of mercury in the air. The property, home and nearby vacant lot were also checked for physical contamination.

Items were bagged and tested for mercury vapor, Kocher said.

Kocher said the multi-agency response was reminiscent of the way the area had responded to last year’s flood.

“Everybody came together, and it worked out really well,” he said.

Mercury can be found everywhere from thermometers to fluorescent lighting. The worst health effects come from its vapor form, in which in can be inhaled, said the Environmental Protection Agency. Those include tremors, insomnia and mood swings.

Both the EPA and Western UP Health Department have published guidelines concerning what to do if involved in a larger spill. Vacuum cleaners and brooms should never be used for cleanup, as they can spread the spill. Other practices that should never be done are pouring it down a drain or walking through it, which can contaminate shoes and spread the mercury.

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