1 of 2 EKU buildings deemed safe to use after mercury spill cleanup

Progress is being made in the continuing cleanup of a Dec. 15 mercury spill at Eastern Kentucky University.

The new science building was deemed "suitable for occupancy" on Thursday, based on monitoring data, EKU spokesman Marc Whitt said. The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the Madison County Health Department supported the decision.

Traces of mercury had been tracked to the new building as equipment was moved there from the Moore Building on the Richmond campus.

At the Moore Building, mercury was spilled from a barometer, an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure. About 10 to 12 tablespoons were spilled in a first-floor storage room.

The Moore Building will remain closed while mitigation efforts continue, Whitt said.

Even a small amount of mercury can be hazardous because it vaporizes. A short-term, high dose of mercury might cause gastrointestinal damage, kidney failure, chills, nausea, difficulty breathing and lung irritation. Chronic effects include kidney damage, genetic damage and nervous-system damage.

No estimate is available yet on how much the mitigation effort will cost.

"We probably will not know that until we get Moore cleaned up," Whitt said. "That could be another week or so."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader