On December 20, 2019, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requested the EPA to provide emergency response support to a release of elemental mercury in Marshalltown, Iowa. The release initially occurred at a private residence in early December 2019, where children playing with a vial of elemental mercury dropped the vial. The mercury was originally sourced during the purchase of a storage locker, at an auction, by the responsible party.
The Marshalltown Fire Department was notified of the spill on December 18, 2019, when children who live at the home were taken to the hospital with concerns of mercury poisoning. Upon notification, the Marshalltown Fire Department and Des Moines Hazardous Materials team responded to the residence to assess the spill.
Assessment by the local responders determined the mercury spill had likely impacted the residence, two vehicles, and a car wash. An assessment by the EPA OSC determined that two additional residences, two hotels, and a school may also have been impacted.
One child was treated for acute mercury poisoning at a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and was discharged on December 21, 2019. Another child was taken to the emergency room on December 22, 2019 with acute mercury poisoning symptoms.
In addition, the residents of the affected structure have moved to temporary lodging. Further assessment by EPA has determined high levels of mercury exist within the residence (up to 33,000 nanograms per cubic meter[ng/m3]). It is estimated that approximately 8.3 milliliters of elemental mercury have been diffusely released.
The results from the confirmation samples from affected residences were received on January 14, 2020. The data indicated mercury vapor levels of 330 ng/m3 to 460 ng/m3 for both the upper unit and the basement unit of 2002 Catalina Place. Data transmittal letters will be sent to the property owners and renters of 2002 Catalina Place and 304 Sharon Avenue. Carpet was installed at 304 Sharon on January 15, 2020.
In summary: two hotels, one medical center, one car wash, two schools, four homes, two vehicles, and one school bus were identified as being potentially impacted by mercury contamination. All were ultimately screened and/or cleaned up to clearance levels. Fourteen total persons were identified by local health officials as having elevated levels of mercury in their blood; eight are reportedly on chelation medication.
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