Mercury exposure can result in brain and nervous system damage.
BY MARY GRZEBIENIAK
MERCER -- Do you have old thermometers or switches, or even a container of mercury in your home? While most mercury batteries have been outlawed, many residents still may have potentially hazardous materials.
State officials will be here April 18-19 to collect household items containing mercury.
"We frequently find old mayonnaise jars full of mercury," said Ed Orris, pollution prevention specialist with the Department of Environmental Protection's Meadville office.
Examples: He explained that people are interested in the silver liquid metal's fascinating properties such as the way it breaks into balls, then reforms. He said it is not unusual for people who work in factories to bring some home as a curiosity.
A 15-pound jar of mercury was kept on an end table in a Lawrence County home. When it recently spilled, it contaminated the carpeting, floor and subfloor resulting in thousands of dollars of damage to clean up the potentially lethal hazard, he said.
Another problem is keeping it away from kids. Orris said that at Meadville High School last spring a student got some from a chemistry lab and spread it through a hallway. Several classrooms had to be closed until they were decontaminated.
Mercury exposure through inhalation or ingestion can result in brain and nervous system damage, said Freda Tarbell, DEP community relations coordinator. Children and the unborn are especially vulnerable.
She said that while the government is trying to phase out use of mercury, numerous items are still being sold which contain the metal. When they are discarded improperly, they can contaminate the environment.
Some sources are thermometers, thermostats, some household "silent switches" made before 1991, some alkaline batteries manufactured before 1994, old chemistry sets, lighted athletic shoes purchased before 1994, some septic tank and sump pump control switches and some dairy barn manometers.
Schools: County recycling coordinator Don Blakesley said that all local school districts have been asked to check for mercury and that so far he has received reports of 141 items found.
Anyone with mercury-containing items can call the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission at (724) 981-2412 during working hours until Wednesday to arrange for pickup.
Orris asked that the items be double bagged in plastic bags with zipper closings.
Those with questions can call the the planning commission.
The collection is not open to business and industries, but they may call DEP pollution prevention manager Geoff Bristow at (814) 332-6190.