Precautionary decontaminations after Houston mercury spill

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HOUSTON (AP) — Dozens of people were decontaminated as a precaution Sunday after trace amounts of mercury was spilled at three locations in Houston, city officials said.

Fire Chief Sam Pena said at a news conference Sunday evening that the situation was under control and crews were cleaning up the spills. There's no timetable for when the cleanup will be complete.

Someone called 911 around 11:15 a.m. to report a white liquid on the ground, Pena said. Officials later determined that mercury was spilled outside a Walmart, a Sonic Drive-In and a nearby gas station. All three locations were evacuated and between 30 and 60 people were asked to take decontamination showers as a precaution, Pena said.

The fire chief added one woman was taken to a hospital as a precaution because she was pregnant.

Police said it's unclear how or when the chemical was spilled. Federal and local investigators were trying to determine whether it was intentional.

Authorities 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 mercury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mercury exists in three forms. Elemental mercury is liquid at room temperature. It is used in some thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and electrical switches.

Dr. David Persse with the Houston Health Department said that because all three spills happened outdoors, the risk to people in the area is minimal.

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