News for Public Officials and the People They Serve

Mercury Spill Shuts Down Ohio County Courthouse
Source of Title - Reprinted with permission

The Morrow County Courthouse in Mt. Gilead, Ohio was forced to evacuate its employees after mercury was discovered on the second floor of the building on June 27, 2007. Approximately 100 people then vacated the building and hazardous response teams were informed of the spill.

According to an article in The Mansfield News Journal, Steve Brenneman, the county sheriff, received a call from the county's director of Homeland Security, Joe Edwards, on Wednesday afternoon informing him that mercury had been found near the elevator on the courthouse's upper floor. The mercury had been walked through and tracked into several halls before it was discovered.

"I was told there was a mercury spill and they had to tear carpeting up," said Amy Caudill, a title examiner for VersaTitle of Mansfield, Ohio who frequently visits the county recorder's office. "Apparently, someone had a necklace with mercury in it and it fell and broke. They had to clean it up. We were told the courthouse would be closed until Monday."

Inquiries from Source of Title were not returned prior to press time, but a representative of the Morrow County Commissioners' office did confirm that the courthouse was closed and that spilled mercury was the cause. Dixie Shinaberry, the county recorder, was unavailable for comment as her office and all offices located at 48 E. High Street were evacuated.

According to various news outlets, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to the site and were present later that evening to determine the effects of the spill. Source of Title will continue to follow this story and provide additional information as it becomes available.

A simple search on the Internet uncovered information on mercury necklaces and their growth in popularity among students in schools around the country. The growing trend in wearing them has led to numerous mercury spills in schools throughout the U.S. The necklaces are often a beaded chain, cord, or leather strand with a glass pendant that contains mercury. The mercury appears as a silvery clump of liquid that rolls around in the hollow glass pendant. 

The necklaces are easy to break and once the mercury spills it can easily roll into cracks in floors, walls, or get trapped in carpet.  If spilled in or around heating ducts, mercury can quickly vaporize and possibly spread throughout the building or home.

According to the EPA, trace amounts of liquid mercury can vaporize and reach levels that may be harmful to one's health.  At high levels, mercury vapors may cause effects such as respiratory difficulties and prolonged exposure can also lead to damage of the central nervous system.  The severity of harm depends on the level of mercury to which a person is exposed and for how long they are exposed to it.



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