MN recovers 64 lbs mercury offered on Craigslist

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota man who discovered 64 pounds of mercury in his late grandfather’s garage tried to sell it on Craigslist but was forestalled by state pollution control officials who feared the highly regulated toxin presented an environmental hazard.

The Floodwood man found the liquid metal stored in four sealed plastic bottles and its original packaging and posted an online ad to sell it for $650, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Thursday. A citizen spotted the ad and notified the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, who alerted the agency. Within hours, agency staff had negotiated a lower price and arranged for sanitary officials to pick up and safely dispose of the mercury. There was no contamination at the scene.

The seller inherited the mercury, along with some unused mining equipment, from his grandfather, who had intended to get into gold mining, the MPCA said in a news release.

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The use of mercury is legal in certain industrial processes but is highly regulated. Since the seller didn’t do anything illegal, he won’t face any penalties, the agency said.

MPCA enforcement manager Jeff Connell called the recovery “a phenomenal and fortunate coup.” He pointed out that coal-burning electric utilities spend millions of dollars to keep even a fraction of that amount of mercury from coming out of their smokestacks. And he noted that spills of even a few ounces can set off a major hazardous materials response. The cleanup and response to the release of 12 pounds of mercury in Rosemount several years ago cost nearly $400,000, he said.

Exposure to elemental mercury can damage human health because it’s toxic to the kidneys and the nervous system. In the environment, elemental mercury can be converted into methylmercury, which accumulates in the tissues of fish.