Man, Two Others, Sickened by Mercury Vapor Exposure

Source: Alexy Smirnoff - 123RF

Fall River, RI – State and Federal investigators are investigating the cause of a mercury vapor exposure at an apartment complex where a 51-year-old man became seriously ill from inhaling the vapors.

A 17-year-old girl and her mother, who lived with the man, were also hospitalized at Rhode Island Hospital and are in stable condition.

City Inspectional Services Director, Glenn Hathaway, said, “Right now we have EPA and MassDEP. They’ve hired an independent company, Westin, to come down and do the evaluation.”

The Providence Journal reports that Fall River Fire Department spokesman Capt. Neil Furtado said later that crews discovered an unsafe level of mercury in the common areas of the six-unit building and were in full hazardous materials gear testing the affected second-floor apartment.

Because of the cluttered condition of the affected apartment, Furtado said the hazmat crews are having some difficulty collecting samples.

A pet dog and three cats died, apparently from exposure to mercury.

Hathaway condemned the building on Saturday, ordering public safety crews who responded to a call to evacuate the building once it was discovered that the victim had attempted to extract silver from teeth by some cooking method. Mercury, which was once used in the process to fill teeth, was released.

The man was reportedly cooking the teeth on Jan. 25 and took ill on Jan. 28, taking himself to Saint Anne’s Hospital and later transferred to Rhode Island Hospital, in a critical condition.

On Saturday as the animals were dying, the woman who lived with the victim contacted the building’s managers. They, in turn, contacted the police and fire departments.

City public safety personnel and the building managers were also tested but showed no signs of exposure.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), any amount of mercury spilled indoors can be hazardous. The more mercury is spilled, the more its vapor will build up in the air and the more hazardous it will be.

Even a small spill, such as from a broken thermometer, can produce hazardous amounts of vapor if a room is small enough, warm enough and people spend a good deal of time there, as in a small bedroom.

If mercury is spilled onto a hot surface, such as a burner on a stove, mercury will vaporize quickly and can be more dangerous.