Mercury Spill at Sylvania’s HT Building

By Juan Lacayo|October 21, 2017News, Top Stories|

Liquid Mercury pouring into a clear dish

Courtesy Bionerd

An isolated room in the Health Technology (HT) building at PCC Sylvania hosted a Mercury spill on May 25, 2016. Staff in the Child Development Center (CDC), which is located in several rooms on the second floor of the Health Technology building, alerted Facilities Management Services (FMS) to a strong “sewer” smell in the area. The next day, FMS technicians began searching for possible sources of the odor.

The FMS investigation found a “small spill of fluid” in HT124B, a space that houses the PCC Dental Clinic’s amalgam separator (AS). An AS is an EPA-required device for clinics performing procedures involving the use of mercury “designed to remove solids from dental office wastewater […] through centrifugation, sedimentation, filtration, or a combination of any of these methods.” An AS that meets the EPA-required ISO standard (11143) can achieve a particulate removal rate of 95 percent.

The leak occurred not in the separator itself, but from a gasket leading into the separator from the sinks.  According to Heidi Van Brocklin of FMS, the separator is made by the Rebec company, and had been installed in 2007. Van Brocklin said the unit had  its last service before the spill in  March 2015 by Burkhart Dental Supply  gathering from 2 ½ to 3 pounds of dental waste a year.

The Dental Clinic’s AS had a leaky gasket upstream of the unit that was allowing mercury-laden saliva to spill onto the floor instead capturing the mercury and allowing the wastewater to pass through the separator. The sewer-like odor detected by staff was attributed to biological decomposition of the fluid.

Photo of teeth with amalgam fillingsA sample of the leaked fluid was collected by spill response contractor, NW Envirosearch, to be sent to Apex Labs for analysis. The Bridge filed an Oregon Open Records request with the college to obtain a copy of the report and accompanying emails. The Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) analysis uncovered 4,760 parts per million (ppm) of mercury present in the sample, which was thousands of time higher than the 2-ppm federal threshold for safety. The high concentration of mercury is “somewhat expected for a ‘trap’ collection system that is doing its designed job,” according to the report sent to PCC by NW Envirosearch and, “the TOTAL [concentration] was expected, but much higher than expected for the TCLP results.”

The same report states that NW Envirosearch recommended the installation of a sampling valve into a ‘P’ trap area “in order to allow for collection of flow/waste before the separator unit to find out what the actual mercury levels are in the waste flow prior to concentrating in the accumulator/separator unit.” In the email chain of communications on fixing the problem, the NW Envirosearch representative also noted that they didn’t believe this could have been a health issue for those in the building because of the liquid form of the contaminant and because of its location away from the “primary air flow path zone.” According to Celina Baguiao, Community Relations Manager at PCC Sylvania, on May 27, 2016, NW Envirosearch staged a cleanup of the spilled materials that concluded before 7am. The faulty AS was assessed by Burkhart Dental Supply then shut down until they installed a new AS on June 13, 2016. The cleanup materials as well as the old AS were stored in a drum in a non-public, outdoor space reserved for hazardous materials on the Sylvania campus.  The amalgam separator uses cartridges to store trapped material, and these were shipped to Rebec, the company that made the separator for disposal. Rebec uses another company, Pristine Environmental Serices to dispose of the hazardous waste.  NW EnvironSearch charged $587 for its report, and the new amalgam separator was $1,900, including installation fees.

The Bridge thanks Celina Baguiao, Community Relations Manager for the Sylvania Campus and Heidi Van Brocklin of FMS for their assistance in reporting on this story. Background research was conducted by student reporter Leah Bell-Johnson.  Posts of the APEX lab report and the PCC email chain can be found on our homepage.

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Juan Lacayo

About Juan Lacayo

Storytelling is the province of which I am a denizen. Within this realm, in a busy part of town where many pass by and few enter, audiences can find me spinning yarns, weaving tapestries, and stitching together the fabrics of everyday reality. Sometimes those cloths are used for shelter and security, other times they are meant to dazzle and delight those who don them, still other times they are meant for their practical uses in life. However, they are always crafted to specification. Cut to form. Stitched to fit. Carefully considered for the form the fabrics will hug so that each form will glide effortlessly and gracefully, as one. The important thing for those who peruse my collections to remember is that many cuts will fit and complement your form, while others will seem tailored for another figure. You may feel uncomfortable, out of place, yet incongruously drawn to the form that could fill that space. It might be thoughtful consideration of the threads binding together the whole; or how the piece traces the curves a form, leaving room for only a breath of excitement; or possibly the revelation of unconsidered possibilities that coax you into my shop. Whatever your inspiration, know that through these doors lie awesome possibilities that, once beheld, cannot be unseen and should not be forgotten.