ARMSTRONG, Iowa (AP) — More than a dozen people, including four children, are being watched for symptoms of mercury poisoning after they were exposed in the north-central Iowa town of Armstrong.
Emmet County emergency manager Terry Reekers said Tuesday that the mercury exposure happened after a construction worker remodeling a house found a plastic bottle with about 40 pounds of liquid mercury in the basement on Friday.
The worker took the mercury to a bar to show friends. Someone at the bar dropped the bottle and spilled nearly half of the mercury. About 10 to 12 people were exposed to it when the owner tried to clean up the spill with a vacuum cleaner and broom.
Reekers said that after leaving the bar, the worker took the remaining mercury back to the house and hid the bottle in a sandbox where four children under the age of 10 later found it. One of them stuck his fingers into the mercury and put the fingers in his mouth. About 25 pounds of mercury was found in the sandbox.
Reekers said he's not sure where the mercury came from originally because the current property owner and two previous owners say the mercury was in the basement when they moved in.
“It's a real mystery,” Reekers said.
The worker may face criminal charges for illegally transporting hazardous materials if law enforcement officials decide to prosecute him.
The Environmental Protection Agency says high levels of mercury exposure can lead to kidney damage, respiratory failure and death. An EPA hazardous materials team will clean up the mercury in both locations.
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