HOUSTON (AP) — A person has been taken into custody for questioning after dozens of people were decontaminated as a precaution due to trace amounts of mercury spilled at three locations in Houston, the FBI said yesterday.
The Houston office of the FBI said on Twitter that the person wasn’t being immediately identified because he isn’t charged.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said at a news conference on Sunday evening that the situation was under control and crew were cleaning up the spills. There’s no timetable for when the cleanup will be complete.
Someone called 911 around 11.15am on Sunday to report a white liquid on the ground, Pena said. Officials later determined that mercury was spilled outside a Walmart, a Sonic Drive-In and a nearby gas station. All three locations were evacuated and between 30 and 60 people were asked to take decontamination showers as a precaution, Pena said.
The fire chief added that one woman was taken to a hospital as a precaution because she was pregnant.
Police said it’s unclear how or when the toxic metal was spilled. Federal and local investigators were trying to determine whether it was intentional.
Authorities also said they’re looking into reports that someone checked into a hospital on Friday in Harris County, where Houston is located, claiming to have been exposed to mercury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, mercury exists in three forms. Elemental mercury is liquid at room temperature. It is used in some thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and electrical switches. High mercury vapour concentrations can cause severe lung damage, the CDC said.
Dr David Persse with the Houston Health Department said that because all three spills happened outdoors, the risk to people in the area is minimal.