New Ulm Public Safety and MPCA responding to mercury spill

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-383-5949

The New Ulm Public Safety Dept. and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are responding to a mercury spill reported Feb. 7 in the 100 block of North Garden Street in southern Minnesota city. The agencies believe there is no risk to the public at this time. They do ask the public to avoid this area as response crews clean up the spill and check surrounding structures for mercury that may have been tracked or spread.

A local waste hauler noticed the mercury spill in a dumpster and alerted authorities. Mercury is a silvery, liquid metal at room temperature, but like water, mercury can evaporate and become airborne. Its vapors are dangerous to inhale because they are toxic to the human nervous system.  Cold temperatures are preventing the mercury outside from vaporizing. Indoors, a significant amount of mercury vapor can build up at room temperature so it is important to clean up any traces. Mercury requires special cleanup because sweeping or vacuuming it can actually increase the risks.

Authorities believe a property owner removed about two gallons of mercury from their garage, disposing of it in the trash. About one gallon spilled in the dumpster. Authorities believe the mercury is isolated to the dumpster, alley and garbage truck where the mercury was found.

Crews are using special equipment to clean up the mercury and will dispose of it appropriately.

The MPCA responds to about 10 mercury spills a year on average. If people suspect they have mercury or other potentially hazardous materials, they should call their local Household Hazardous Waste program. Statewide, these programs collect about 100 pounds of mercury a year.

For spills of mercury or other suspected hazardous materials, call the Minnesota Duty Officer at 800-422-0798 or 651-649-5451, which is staffed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The Duty Officer will connect residents and companies with someone who can advise on dealing with the spill.

Be sure to check your kitchen, bathroom and garage for mercury thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, fluorescent bulbs or other mercury-containing devices, and bring them to household hazardous waste programs for disposal. Take extra care not to break anything by putting mercury-containing devices inside a sealable plastic container.

It is unlawful to place mercury or mercury-containing devices in ordinary household garbage. Call your county's solid waste officer for the location and hours of the household hazardous waste site nearest you.

For more information, visit the MPCA's Mercury webpage.