FBI charges 19-year-old in connection to mercury spills in west Houston

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HOUSTON — A 19-year-old was taken into custody early Monday in connection with mercury spills that were discovered in three locations in west Houston over the weekend.

Just before 9:00 a.m. Monday, FBI Houston tweeted out that Christopher Lee Melder had been arrested and charged with burglary, unlawful disposal of hazardous material and an outstanding felony drug possession warrant.

 

He was taken into custody for questioning around 3:30 Monday morning.

The spills were reported by a concerned resident who works in the chemical industry just after 11 a.m. Sunday. They saw the white, silvery substance on the ground and called it in.

One spill was reported in the 10700 block of Westview Drive inside a Walmart parking lot.

Officials also responded to small spills at a nearby Sonic and Shell gas station. One person, a pregnant woman, was taken to the hospital "out of an abundance of caution."

Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena wanted to clear up some reports of gallons of mercury spilled are inaccurate. He confirms there were just three small spills that he estimates were less than a pint at each location.

Officials are still trying to piece all of this together. The Houston Police Department said officers are investigating a warehouse in the area that could have possibly been broken into and someone who reported being exposed to mercury Saturday.

“We are also also investigating a potential, possible related call of a male at a local hospital in the county, not in the city, but in the county, possibly sometime yesterday or last night claiming to have had exposure to mercury,” HPD Executive Asst. Chief Matt Slinkard said.

He went on to explain that one of the reasons they weren’t able to tell if the warehouse was broken into or not is that it may have not been operational for awhile, so they were trying to see if it was vandalized at some point or if it was actually a recent break in.

Either way though, they cannot tell if the chemical came from there yet or not.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can effect a person's health in numerous ways depending on their age, the length of exposure and how the person was exposed— breathing, eating, skin contact and so on.

Dr. Persse, the city of Houston’s Health Authority, says the risk during Sunday’s spills was extremely low. The risk comes when people ingest or inhale it and since it was on the ground outdoors, it is not very likely that anyone will get sick because of it.

However, the fire department did process dozens of people that may have come in contact with the mercury through a decontamination process which included shoes and clothes taken off and people being washed off.  Approximately 60 people were found to have trace amounts of mercury near their feet or on their shoes. Twelve people were evaluated on the scene and released.

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