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Sick 12-year-old Prompts Mercury Cleanup

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Photo: Video by fox47news.com

Sick 12-year-old Prompts Mercury Cleanup

By FOX 47 News. CREATED Oct 19, 2013

A quiet Williamston neighborhood is now the center of attention for the Environmental Protection Agency.

"They got on to it right away, the EPA came in and is in charge of the clean up," said Bill Larsen, the neighbor who lives next door.

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old boy found a vial of mercury in his basement and started playing with it. When it broke in the high school parking lot the boy didn't think much about it.

"I've seen him outside this summer and he seems to be fine," said Larsen.

But when the vial broke in June the boy's duffle bag was contaminated. In July when he went on a scouting trip he got sick after being in a closed space with the same duffle bag. It wasn't until earlier this week upon medical examination, that doctors suspected mercury poisoning. That's what sparked the investigation and the cleanup.

"Bedding, carpet, clothing-- that's not salvageable. That's going to have to go in a roll off box and go to a hazardous waste landfill," said Brian Kelly who works for the Environmental Protection Agency in region 5.

The EPA removed dozens of bags of items from the home because they are contaminated.

A bag filled with legos had 47,290 written on it--that's nano grams per cubic meter. A safe level is anything below 10,000. The EPA said many times after a spill people will try to vacuum up the mercury, but Kelly said that's not a good idea. Instead it just blows the particles into the air. The vacuum taken from the home was nearly seven times above a safe level.

When it comes to mercury just two tablespoons is considered a large spill. The EPA estimates the amount the boy spilled was a little more than one tablespoon.

The cleanup crew will try to save any items of high sentimental value by heating the items up while capturing the mercury, but it's a costly and time consuming process.

"Unfortunately a lot of the items are lost," said Kelly.

While the initial spill happened on the Williamston high school campus, students at school have not been affected.

"I feel very confident we are fine," said Narda Murphy, the Superintendent of Williamston Schools. What mercury contamination that was found on campus is concentrated to a small area in the parking lot. The EPA will clean that up on Saturday.

Superintendent Murphy said the 12-year-old boy has not been to school yet this year. She hopes to call and check up on the family soon.

Larsen said the family is a great neighbor, and he hopes for the best.

"I just hope that they recover and that there's no lingering problems," said Larsen.

It's a feeling shared by all.

If people have mercury in their homes they should contact the county health department, where they can make arrangements to have it removed.