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Mercury source still unknown; apartment cleared of danger

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Posted: July 3, 2008 5:35 p.m.
Updated: July 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    It's still a mystery how a pool of mercury appeared on a local apartment's back porch, but the apartment and those surrounding it were cleared of danger Thursday and the sizable amount of liquid metal was removed.
    Michelle Cortes, environmental emergency specialist with the Savannah office of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said the investigation was wrapped up Thursday in spite of the fact that officials still do not know how about a quarter cup of mercury appeared on the back porch of a Cypress Villas apartment.
    Justin Howard, a man who rented the apartment and who discovered the mercury spill Tuesday night as he was  moving in, did not see the spill the previous week when he walked through the apartment with a  rental agent, nor did he notice the spill earlier Tuesday, she said.
    But Tuesday evening when he was checking on his dogs in  the back yard, he and a friend, Jonas March, found the mercury and noticed the Statesboro Fire Department.
    After tests determined the silvery puddle was indeed mercury, which can vaporize and cause severe illness or death if a person is overexposed, fire officials called the EPD.
    The EPD called the EPA — Environmental Protection Agency — which is a federal agency and had t he equipment needed to investigate and test the air, Cortes said.
    "The EPA had contractors do air monitoring of the apartment and all the neighboring apartments, and the (levels of mercury in the air) was below EPA standards," she said. "The area is safe,"
    The apartment owner called in a contractor and had the mercury removed, she said.
    But questions still abound regarding how the stuff got there in the first place.
    "We have no idea," Cortes said. "The people renting did a walk-through (last week) and it was not there, and he doesn't recall it  being there Tuesday morning. We don't know  the source of it at all."
    Howard said Wednesday "I have absolutely no idea whatsoever" where it came from.
    Bulloch County Sheriff's Chief Investigator Capt. Todd Hutchens said deputies, including Inv. Jason Long, responded to the scene, but mainly just filed a report, leaving the investigation to federal agents.
    "We have no idea where the stuff came from," he said. "It is kind of odd how it got there."
    Georgia Southern University Chemistry Department's Dr. Laura Frost was equally puzzled by the large amount of mercury found.
    "You'd have to go buy a bunch of thermometers and break them open," she said Wednesday.
    Mercury is found in thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, barometers and float valves, among other things.
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