Toxic Chemicals and Thrift Shops Don’t Mix

April 23, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

mercuryglobA mercury spill wrought huge damage on an Ohio thrift store. Why do these things happen? Just … why?

Oh. They happen because well-meaning people donate malfunctioning blood-pressure machines, that’s why.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the victim was a Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, which will reopen Friday after more than three weeks spent cleaning up after the spill:

“It cost the charity about $300,000, including an estimated $80,000 in lost inventory, said spokeswoman Megan Ericson. Employees were able to work at other locations during the closure. Yesterday, those employees were thrilled to be back on Indianola Avenue. They were stocking and cleaning, hoping that donations will continue to fill the store, which had to be emptied of its inventory and most of its racks and shelving for fear that they could pose a health threat.

“A mercury leak from a blood-pressure machine donated to the store likely spilled about a tablespoon in all, but the majority of that was contained to the area where the device was displayed, said Joel Hogue of Elemental Services & Consulting Inc., the Powell company hired to lead the cleanup. Trouble ensued when employees dust-mopped, he said, unknowingly spreading mercury throughout the store and breaking it down into smaller and smaller beads. The smaller the beads, the more likely the mercury is to vaporize. ‘Mercury vapor is such that it actually impregnates everything,’ Hogue said. That means the clothes and other goods that didn’t even come in contact with the ground were contaminated, contributing to unsafe mercury levels.

“Decontamination of every item in the store would have been excessively costly and time-consuming, and Volunteers of America decided that starting from scratch was a better option, Hogue said…. The issue at the store was the sheer volume of contaminated items.

“Nobody has been sickened in connection with the spill….

“VOA stores aren’t supposed to accept donations of products that contain mercury, and store manager Mandy Blevins said she’s unsure how the error was made. In the past few weeks, signs have been posted reminding employees about sources of hazardous materials, and management has held several meetings, she said.

“The store was about 80 percent restocked yesterday but remained especially in need of men’s and children’s clothing.”

Hey, Ohioans with cluttered closets: Help ’em out and become a “scavengee,” aka a provider of scavengeables.

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