Federal authorities have detained a person for questioning after dozens of people were decontaminated in Houston as a precaution due to trace amounts of mercury in three spills of the toxic chemical, the FBI said Monday.
“An individual has just been taken in to custody by FBI Houston for questioning in connection with Sunday’s mercury spills. He is not being identified at this time as he is not charged,” the bureau said on Twitter.
An unidentified “concerned citizen” who works in the chemical industry called 911 about 11:15 a.m. Sunday to report a white liquid on the ground, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said at a news conference later in the day.
Authorities later determined that mercury was spilled outside a Walmart, a Sonic Drive-In and a nearby Shell gas station, according to the Houston Chronicle.
All three locations were evacuated and between 30 and 60 people were asked to take decontamination showers as a precaution, said Pena, who added that one woman was taken to a hospital as a precaution because she is pregnant.
The chief said the situation was under control and that crews were cleaning up the spills.
Officials also said they’re looking into reports that someone checked into a hospital Friday in Harris County, where Houston is located, claiming to have been exposed to the chemical.
It was unclear how or when the toxic metal was spilled, police said. Federal and local investigators were trying to determine whether the spills were intentional.
Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department said that because all three spills happened outdoors, the risk to people nearby was minimal.
Elemental mercury, which is liquid at room temperature, is used in some thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and electrical switches.
High mercury vapor concentrations can cause severe lung damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With Post wires
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