If someone set out to find a major toxic hazard like mercury, they probably wouldn’t think to look on Craigslist. But that’s just where a citizen’s tip led the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
As a result of the tip, MPCA staff were able to capture 64 pounds of mercury, preventing it from falling into the wrong hands or harming the environment.
The citizen contacted staff at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD), who alerted the MPCA that a Floodwood, Minnesota resident had posted an online ad to sell 64 pounds of elemental mercury for $650. The seller had found the mercury after going through his late grandfather’s garage.
The MPCA decided that it made more sense to buy the mercury and contain it quickly for proper disposal, rather than to start a time-consuming regulatory compliance investigation.
After communications with WLSSD and the Internet seller, the MPCA negotiated a lower price and directed WLSSD to use grant funds to make the purchase within hours of the discovery. WLSSD staff picked up the mercury at the seller’s home, photographed it, and examined the entire area for any mercury contamination. WLSSD staff found no contamination and immediately brought the mercury to their household hazardous waste collection area for proper disposal.
MPCA staff learned that the seller had inherited the mercury, along with some unused mining equipment, from his grandfather, who had intended to get into gold mining. The mercury was in four sealed plastic bottles and in its original packaging. Although mercury is not illegal to own in Minnesota, state laws do regulate its sale and purchase. Since the person trying to sell the mercury did not do anything illegal in this case, he will not face any penalties.