HazChem Environmental was hired to clean up a major mercury spill by a large Chicago entity on Feb. 5, 2023. “First, we felt very bad that there had been this major mercury spill in the first place,” said HazChem Co-Owner Chris Johnson.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “Exposure to even small amounts of mercury over a long period may cause negative health effects including damage to the brain, kidney, lungs, and the developing fetus. Brief contact with high levels of mercury can cause immediate health effects including loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in behavior or personality. Depending on the length or degree of exposure, additional symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, eye irritation, weight loss, skin rashes, and muscle tremors may occur.”
HazChem employs experts in cleaning up mercury spills. “We moved quickly,” Johnson said. “There are a few other companies in America that are also skilled in cleaning mercury spills so we were honored to be chosen. But this really was no time for self-congratulations. It was time to go to work —immediately.”
HazChem keeps in its warehouse the vast amount of mercury-cleanup supplies needed to handle a mercury spill. “The supplies needed to clean up a mercury spill are far more intricate than, say, a diesel-fuel spill,” explained HazChem Co-Owner Alan Shapiro. “The equipment and gear needed to clean up a mercury spill are highly specialized. And we are fortunate that we always have had employees that are so skilled at using this highly specialized equipment.”
HazChem emergency workers, of course wearing the proper PPE, completed a full inspection of this Chicagoland site on the first day. “With a mercury spill, we are constantly testing, testing and cleaning — and then testing, testing and cleaning some more,” Johnson said. “There is no such thing as ‘being too careful’ when it comes to a mercury spill.”
HazChem, after Day 1, had told its client to expect testing and cleanup work to go on for about 15 days. “And that’s exactly what this cleanup work ended up being, 15 days,” Shapiro said. “Of course this institution understood that no one, other than our HazChem crew members, could enter the areas where the spillage had occurred.
“I give a lot of credit to our client, this very famed institution: They were not the least bit interested in speed. They wanted their employees, and all the other people that entered their building, to have complete confidence in the safety of the building. That was our job, and I am proud of the fact that we achieved the level of safety our client had asked for.”
Throughout the 15 days of work, HazChem used, amongst other supplies: Mercury Absorb Powder, Mercury Replacement Filter, Mercury Collection Jars, 15-Gallon Mercury Vacuum (Stainless), Mercury Vacuum Bag, Mercury Hose, Nippon Mercury Meter and Mercury Soap.
“A mercury spill is complex,” Shapiro said. “We appreciate that this outstanding institution trusted us and listened to us throughout the entire process. The bottom line is what any business or entity would want: Not a single person got sick or suffered any type of illness because of this spill.
“To us, that is called ‘Success.’”