The recent story in The Province Newspaper featured a Langley, BC resident whose experience last April 2012 in dealing with District of Langley officials certainly raises questions on Hazardous Materials in both household products we buy and hazardous building products used in pre 1990 built homes. Many people are unaware of these hazardous products we buy, including hazardous building materials that may be lurking inside our homes.
The issue of training of Langley District personnel and Environmental companies also brings into question when over zealousness of both when confronted with a minor hazardous spill, resulted in a financial headache for one BC resident.
Ms. Oksana Fedjko of Langley, BC, experience with a broken oral thermometer soon turned into a nightmare, when the glass thermometer broke, emptying its mercury filled contents onto her kitchen floor.
Mercury filled oral thermometers are widely used and sold in Canada, containing a small amount (0.50 grams +/-) of elemental mercury, with a density of the same amount of mercury found in most dental amalgams, still used in an average dental filling. Minute amounts of mercury is also present in our air, soil, water and the food we eat, as a naturally occurring metal found throughout the world.
Elemental Mercury in liquid form can be found in some oral thermometers, and if accidentally broken, the mercury once exposed to room temperature begins to slowly volatilize, becoming an inhalation hazard.
Ms. Fedjko did what any concerned mother with young children would do; she called 9-1-1 to report what had happened and the Langley Fire Department was dispatched to the scene.
What happened next turned out to be an expensive experience for the young mother, once Fire officials arrived on the scene she was later directed to evacuate everyone from her townhome, certainly a wise move until fire fighters could conduct a risk and hazard assessment of the kitchen.
This is where confusion reigns according to Ms. Fedjko, as the fire department hazardous risk assessment and over zealousness appears to be in question. It appears Ms. Fedjko whose claims of over zealousness by the fire department seems to be quite plausible if using generally accepted industry practices and standards when it comes to a minor mercury spill in her home.
While one cannot fault the decision by the fire department, who erred on the side of caution, it certainly turned out to be an expensive proposition for initial cleanup costs for Ms. Fedjko.
The District of Langley Fire Department contacted a Richmond Environmental company to perform the hazardous materials cleanup.
Fire officials relayed, verbally and via email photos of the hazardous spill to the Environmental contractor.
It has been alleged and disputed by the Environmental company Tervita had provided a initial quote and advance payment of $6,000.00 before even dispatching a cleanup crew to the scene. This was later reduced to $1,700.00, and under protest by the Fedjko family, the final bill came to $850.00.
While Fire departments do not perform hazardous materials abatement, they are according to the District of Langley Fire Department adept in conducting Hazardous Materials Assessments. This is based on their Website claim that all fire fighters are trained to National Standards. Post secondary institutions such as the BC Institute of Justice or other similar Institution for Firefighters would include coursework to meet Canadian standards for NFPA® 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents. This includes meeting the standard for Fire fighter professional qualifications in compliance with NFPA 1001. Part of this training also includes Hazmat Awareness to meet the competencies defined in Chapter 4 of NFPA 472 and Hazmat Operations to meet the competencies defined in Chapter 5 of NFPA 472.
Environmental Companies in BC, operate under even more stringent regulations requiring post secondary certifications and expertise when dealing in hazardous materials response, abatement, and remediation.
I guess one question remains if trained and certified professionals the public rely on for advice, why was the Fire Department or the Environmental company not aware that such a small mercury spill did not necessitate a Chernobyl like cleanup, or if they were aware, did they fail to mention to Ms. Fedjko that the hazardous risk was so small, and could handle the task herself. Did not Ms. Fedjko ask them if she could handle to clean up herself, only to be told no?
Certainly with proper personal respiratory protection (though charcoal cartridges with limited shelf life are hard to find on short notice) or opening all windows to allow cross ventilation, Ms. Fedjko could in fact have performed a quick the 5-10 minute cleanup herself, using nothing more than a small amount of shaving cream (to encapsulate the 9 BB drops of mercury), two playing cards to scoop up the shaving cream, disposing the mess into a plastic sandwich bag, sealed shut.
Once the mercury was cleaned up, a follow up with a cold water damp rinse with a sponge to wipe up the entire kitchen floor surface would have removed all traces of the mercury. Once mopped up, disposing of the sponge into a plastic bag, along with the sandwich bag, could then be double bagged with another plastic bag, and taped shut.
Then off to a hazardous waste facility where mercury containing CFL bulbs are dropped off can be done. www.lightrecycle.ca
There are also commercially available small mercury spill kits such as MercVap that can be obtained. Never vacuum a mercury spill with a household vacuum cleaner. It will increase the vaporization of the mercury via the vacuum electric motor and resulting exhaust heat. Rent a vacuum which is specifically designed for mercury spills.
A few helpful hints to remember are:
- Do not put contaminated items in the washing machine;
- Do not vacuum the spill;
- Do not use a broom or a brush;
- Do not pour mercury down the drain; and
- Do not throw mercury or contaminated items in the garbage.
Hopefully readers will learn from Ms. Fedjko’s experience with an ordinary off the shelf thermometer, and realise even household products we buy today may become hazardous.
One other note many should be aware of as well are hazardous building products used in the construction of Pre-1990 homes.
If your home was built before 1990, the following hazardous building materials or products were commonly used in the construction of your home and though do not pose a health hazard unless you impact them, such as sanding the surface, or breaking up the material.
Go to the links below to find out what hazardous materials may reside in your pre 1990 built home.
Health Canada website is a valuable resource for the majority of hazards which affect Canadians. including Mercury.