Mercury Spill Responses — Five States, 2012–2015
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Mercury Spill Responses — Five States, 2012–2015

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  • Alternative Title:
    MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
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    Despite measures to educate the public about the dangers of elemental mercury, spills continue to occur in homes, schools, health care facilities, and other settings, endangering the public's health and requiring costly cleanup. Mercury is most efficiently absorbed by the lungs, and exposure to high levels of mercury vapor after a release can cause cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and visual disturbances (1). Children and fetuses are most susceptible to the Adverse Effects of mercury vapor exposure. Because their organ systems are still developing, children have increased respiratory rates, and they are closer to the ground where mercury vapors are most highly concentrated (2). To summarize key features of recent mercury spills and lessons learned, five state health departments involved in the cleanup (Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) compiled data from various sources on nonthermometer mercury spills from 2012 to 2015. The most common sites of contamination were residences, schools and school buses, health care facilities, and commercial and industrial facilities. Children aged <18 years were present in about one third of the spills, with approximately one in seven incidents resulting in symptoms consistent with acute mercury exposure. To protect the public's health after a mercury spill, it is important that local, state, and federal agencies communicate and coordinate effectively to ensure a quick response, and to minimize the spread of contamination. To reduce the number of mercury spills that occur in the United States, public health officials should increase awareness about exchange programs for mercury-containing items and educate school and health care workers about sources of mercury and how to dispose of them properly.
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