UPDATE per the FBI Houston Division: Christopher Lee Melder, 19, was arrested early this morning by the FBI and charged with Burglary, Unlawful Disposal of Hazardous Material, and an outstanding felony drug possession warrant. All are state charges.
Melder is being charged with burglary for allegedly breaking into a lab from where he stole the mercury. The lab’s location is not being released at this time.
The FBI does not release mug shots. The investigation is ongoing and no additional information will be released at this time.
A mercury spill in the area of Westview Drive and the West Sam Houston Parkway is contained and there is no immediate threat to the public. A small amount of the chemical was spilled outside of at least three businesses.
“The threat to the public is very low because the spill occurred outdoors and the amount of chemical spilled is small,” said Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department. “The amount of chemical detected on those exposed is below the level that’s dangerous to the average individual.”
Less than a pint of mercury was spilled in the parking lots of a Walmart, Sonic and Shell. Reports of 60,000 gallons of spilled mercury are inaccurate.
The Houston Fire Department Hazardous Materials Response Team responded to the scene and monitored the area for mercury contamination. Approximately 60 people were found to have trace amount of mercury contamination near their feet and shoes. They were decontaminated at the scene as a precaution.
People who were at the locations and are concerned about their shoes can:
- Set them outside to allow possible mercury to evaporate
- Run them in a washing machine twice
- Throw them away
One person was transported to a hospital and 12 were evaluated on the scene and released.
The Houston Health Department urges people who were in the immediate area to monitor for symptoms over the next few days and seek medical attention at their doctor if necessary. The health department is notifying all hospitals and health care providers about testing.
Symptoms of acute mercury exposure can include headaches, eye and throat irritation, coughing and nausea.
Law enforcement is working to determine if the spill was accidental or intentional. The investigation is being coordinated with the FBI. Updates about the investigation will be provided by the FBI Houston office.