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FBI: Teen Stole Mercury Spilled in Houston

Up to 60 people had to be decontaminated
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2019 10:20 AM CST

(Newser) – A 19-year-old is in FBI custody after dozens of people were exposed to mercury. Whether this happened by accident remains under investigation. Less than a pint of the toxic metal was found Sunday on the ground near three adjacent businesses, including a Walmart that houses a McDonald's, reports the AP. Mercury was also detected inside the restaurant because people apparently tracked it in. As many as 60 people found to have trace amounts of the neurotoxin near their feet took a shower on site before leaving in different clothes, while a pregnant woman was taken to hospital as a precaution. It's unclear when the mercury was spilled, but it could have been as early as Friday, when a person reported mercury exposure at a hospital. It was around 11:15am Sunday that police learned of a white liquid on the ground near the businesses, reports NBC News.

Christopher Lee Melder, who allegedly stole the mercury from an undisclosed lab, is charged with burglary and unlawful disposal of hazardous material. The Houston Chronicle reports investigators have yet to determine whether the spill was intentional. Short-term exposure to mercury vapor can cause lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin and eye irritations, and increases in blood pressure and heart rate. However, the threat to the public is considered "very low" since mercury is only dangerous if ingested or inhaled, says David Persse of the Houston Health Department. He adds "the amount of chemical detected on those exposed is below the level that’s dangerous to the average individual." (Read more mercury stories.)

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