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Residential Mercury Spills from Gas Regulators

Daniel Hryhorczuk, Victoria Persky, Julie Piorkowski, Jennifer Davis, C. Michael Moomey, Anne Krantz, Ken D. Runkle, Tiffanie Saxer, Thomas Baughman and Ken McCann
Environmental Health Perspectives
Vol. 114, No. 6 (Jun., 2006), pp. 848-852
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3650987
Page Count: 5
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Residential Mercury Spills from Gas Regulators
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Abstract

Many older homes are equipped with mercury-containing gas regulators that reduce the pressure of natural gas in the mains to the low pressure used in home gas piping. Removal of these regulators can result in elemental mercury spills inside the home. In the summer of 2000, mercury spills were discovered in the basements of several Chicago-area homes after removal of gas regulators by gas company contractors. Subsequent inspections of approximately 361,000 homes by two northern Illinois gas companies showed that 1,363 homes had residential mercury contamination. Urine mercury screening was offered to concerned residents, and results of urine bioassays and indoor mercury air measurements were available for 171 homes. Six of these 171 homes (3.5%) had a cumulative total of nine residents with a urine mercury $\geq 10 \mu g/L$. The highest urine mercury concentration observed in a resident was $26 \mu gL$. Positive bioassays were most strongly associated with mercury air concentrations > $10 \mu g/m^3$ on the first floor [odds ratio (OR) = 21.4; 95% confidence interval (CI), 3.6-125.9] rather than in the basement (OR = 3.0; 95% CI, 0.3-26), and first-floor air samples were more predictive of positive bioassays than were basement samples. Overall, the risk of residential mercury contamination after gas regulator removal ranged from 0.9/1,000 to 4.3/1,000 homes, depending on the gas company, although the risk was considerably higher (20 of 120 homes, 16.7%) for one of the contractors performing removahl work for one of the gas companies. Gas companies, their contractors, and residents should be aware of these risks and should take appropriate actions to prevent these spills from occurring and remediate them if they occur.

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