Mercury spill closes health department

EPA team from Denver arrives to measure contamination levels

Mark Quick, division chief and hazardous-material team leader with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, puts up emergency tape after evacuating the San Juan Basin Health Department offices on Tuesday. A mercury spill led officials to seal off the office. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Mark Quick, division chief and hazardous-material team leader with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, puts up emergency tape after evacuating the San Juan Basin Health Department offices on Tuesday. A mercury spill led officials to seal off the office.

About 100 people were evacuated Tuesday from the San Juan Basin Health Department in Bodo Industrial Park after a small amount of mercury spilled.

The spill occurred about 10 a.m. when a blood-pressure monitoring machine broke, spilling mercury onto the carpet, said Capt. Mike Krupa, with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority.

Emergency workers said people may have walked through the contaminated area and spread mercury to other parts of the building.

It did not appear that anyone suffered adverse health effects from the spill.

“We have decided to err on the side of caution and evacuate the building until we can determine the level of contamination,” said Mark Quick, with the DFRA hazardous-materials team.

A response team from the Environmental Protection Agency flew in from Denver to measure the mercury contamination and make recommendations for mitigation.

The building at 281 Sawyer Drive remained closed all day Tuesday. The area of contamination is believed to be limited to the second floor of the Columbine Building, which houses the San Juan Basin Health Department.

The EPA team had completed a sweep of the lower floor by 6 p.m. and found no contamination, Krupa said.

Businesses on the lower floor were expected to reopen today, he said. The EPA team was just beginning its sweep of the second floor Tuesday evening, and San Juan Basin Health Department was expected to remain closed today, he said.

Evacuees were asked to leave their shoes on site to prevent further contamination.

“Some people’s foot traffic could have contaminated other areas, so during the evacuation process, employees and patients left their shoes on site and left in disposable booties to go home,” Krupa said.

The building was evacuated in an orderly fashion, Krupa said.

shane@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story