HMN-Hazmat crews are expected to clean up a spill of mercury that occurred in a San Jacinto home. The spill occurred after a vial of the chemical, that was in a gold mining kit, broke. (Redlands Daily Facts)
A hazardous materials crew is scheduled to clean up a mercury spill Thursday, Feb. 22, after a vial of the chemical from a gold mining kit broke in a San Jacinto residence two days earlier, according to a Riverside County environmental health official.
The accidental release was reported at 5:50 p.m. Tuesday at a residence in the 1700 block of Wheelbarrow Way in San Jacinto triggering a response by Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire and the county’s Department of Environmental Health, according to a county fire news release.
The owners of the home were cleaning up inside after the occupant had died. “They found a box, opened it up and it contained this kit and somehow a vial fell out and broke,” said Lisa Mitchell, county supervising environmental health specialist.
County officials recommended the owners and another tenant “stay out of the house until we can get it cleaned up,” Mitchell said.
Elemental mercury is used in small-scale gold mining.
“Mercury is mixed with gold-containing materials, forming a mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold,” according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency website.
There are alternative, safe ways to extract gold without using mercury, according to the website.
Mercury spills will vaporize slowly over time and can expose people to toxic fumes and lead to respiratory damage if not thoroughly cleaned, according to a county tip sheet on small volume clean up available at http://www.rivcoeh.org/Portals/0/documents/guidance/hazmat/waste_mercury_cleanup.pdf
County officials estimated the amount that spilled was 41 grams, which is a little more than what would be in a thermometer, but still considered a small amount, Mitchell said.
When officials arrived at the scene, environmental health tests of the atmosphere in the residence produced readings that are 50 times above the acceptable level, according to a fire news release. County fire hazardous materials team members put on special protective suits before entering the residence.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control will fund the cleanup and county officials will be on site to verify the cleanup, Mitchell said.