For most of the day on Friday, New Year's Eve, residents living in the Majestic House Apartments on East Broad Street in Tamaqua were encouraged not to leave or enter their apartments as hazardous material cleanup teams and contractors from Harrisburg and Northampton responded to a mercury spill at the location.
The spill originated on the fifth floor and stretched to a few other locations inside the apartment building, including an inside area near the entrance.
Tape was wrapped around the entrance to the apartment building, which is located across the street from the ABC Hi-Rise and Tamaqua Eagle Rise event that was planned later that evening. Tape was also placed in contaminated areas inside to prevent visitors and tenants from coming in contact or spreading the mercury while hazmat cleanup crews spent a number of hours removing carpet, inspecting and cleaning affected areas.
Reportedly, a tenant living on the fifth floor improperly disposed of an older-style liquid mercury gravity sphygmomanometer by disposing of it down a recycling chute, which falls to the first floor where the instrument shattered. A sphygmomanometer is a medical instrument used for measuring blood pressure in the arteries, usually consisting of a pressure gauge and a rubber cuff that wraps around the upper arm and inflates to constrict the arteries.
Two individuals who came in contact with the mercury were taken to the hospital as a precaution. The average amount of mercury (Hg) in an older-style sphygmomanometer is about 100 grams.
Mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic and are generally handled with care; in cases of spills involving mercury (such as from certain environmental or medical thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs) specific cleaning procedures are used to avoid toxic exposure.
Cleanup can be difficult as per mercury's liquid and other characteristics.
Cleanup usually involves sulfur powder, zinc powder, or some other element that readily forms an amalgam alloy with mercury at ordinary temperatures.
These materials are then sprinkled over the area and subsequently collected and properly disposed of. Cleaning porous surfaces and clothing is not effective at removing all traces of mercury. Discarding these kinds of items should they be exposed to a mercury spill is recommended.
Mercury can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, so containers of mercury are securely sealed to avoid spills and evaporation. Heating of mercury, or compounds of mercury that may decompose when heated, is always carried out with adequate ventilation in order to avoid exposure to mercury vapor. Long exposure to mercury can cause both chronic and acute poisoning.
No known or serious injuries were reported