The Herald Bulletin

July 6, 2013

Previous owner of Elwood home collected mercury

Police: man had no harmful intent, house is safe

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ELWOOD, Ind. — An Elwood house has been cleaned where 20 ounces of mercury was recently discovered, and police believe they have discovered the source of the mysterious cache.

Elwood police determined the previous homeowner collected the hazardous substance from old buildings over the years and forgot to dispose of it before he left the home in the 2000 block of South I Street. The free-standing garage which housed the silvery, toxic liquid sat vacant for nearly 20 years before new resident Josh Clabaugh moved into it in June.

On the evening of June 17 while Clabaugh was cleaning out the garage, he moved a piece of furniture and mercury came pouring out of a cabinet and onto the floor. There was nearly 10 pounds of the paint-like substance. Clabaugh described it as heavy and cold.

Just a small amount of mercury exposure is dangerous. The amount Clabaugh stumbled upon is deadly. Its vapor also acts as a neurotoxin and can have dangerous effects on the central nervous system, especially in children.

Elwood police were particularly concerned about the discovery because the liquid metal, which evaporates readily, is not easy or legal to purchase in such large amounts and can be used as an accelerant in homemade bombs.

But Elwood Police Chief Sam Hanna said the previous owner had no harmful intent. Hanna did not release the name of the previous owner. The man had collected mercury from old, torn-down factories over the years and moved out without remembering to dispose of it, Hanna said. The man, who now lives in northern Indiana, was cooperative with police when they tracked him down.

Hanna said the home is now safe and there is no danger to the area. He said Clabaugh and his family have finally moved back in.

The day after the spill was discovered, a hazardous materials teams and the Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly a week cleaning the site. The danger was limited to the garage, but crews were required to wear respiratory protection because vapor levels were high.

According to the EPA, mercury spills in homes or places of business in Indiana should be reported to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management at 888-233-7745.

Like Jack Molitor on Facebook and follow him @aggiejack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.