- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Authorities are attempting to clean up more than 20 pounds of mercury that was discovered at an incinerator in western Montgomery County early Sunday.

The mercury was discovered at about 2:30 a.m. after it passed through the Dickerson incinerator, oozing out of ash and clinging to the floor and walls, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

He said hazardous materials crews responded and that environmental tests revealed the air quality was ‘pretty much fine.’

‘Never at any time was there a substantial threat to the workers or the community,’ Mr. McIntire said. He said the mercury, about enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand, came in along with other trash, but it was not clear where it originated.

The incinerator is owned by the county but operated by Covanta Energy.

The incident was first reported by the Gazette newspaper.

Mr. McIntire said that it might be impossible to trace the source because the mercury had gone through the incineration process.

‘It was found at the end of the waste stream,’ he said. ‘Apparently, whatever it was contained in, it didn’t rupture or break until it reached the facility. That’s why we’re confident that there wasn’t exposure.’

He said the cleanup is being handled by Baltimore-based contractor Clean Harbors. It is not known how long the cleanup will take.

An October 2003 mercury spill at Ballou High School in Southeast closed the building for more than a month, and cleanup cost at least $1 million. Mercury was found at Cardozo High School in Northwest on Feb. 23 and March 2, resulting in a three-week closure while the school was cleaned and tested. Both of those incidents involved a few ounces of mercury.

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