Local News

2006 Top Newsmakers: Durham Mercury Scare

Posted Updated
Switch to classic wral.com
Federal Health Officials To Assist In Mercury Investigation
DURHAM, N.C. — (March 24) A 21-year-old air-conditioning technician was unaware of the dangers of mercury when, in March, he gave it to four children at a church. That caused a citywide contamination scare.

Church members said Carlos Guerra was an honest and good person who just made a mistake. Police said he thought the metal, which he called "magic water," looked interesting, and he took it from a site where he was working.

Investigators said the children took the mercury to Oak Grove Elementary School, where school staff discovered it days later.

Environmental crews spent several days interviewing people who might have been contaminated, and they decontaminated 21 commercial and residential sites, including the school, the church, three buses and several homes.

A number of children showed signs of mercury poisoning, but were successfully treated.

Guerra was charged with misdemeanor larceny for allegedly taking the mercury from his job site, TT&E Iron & Metal in Garner.

The North Carolina Department of Labor launched a probe into Guerra's employer as well as TT&E, but no charges were filed against the companies. The mercury was normally locked locked away, and no other employees were exposed.

Cleanup for the mercury scare cost the Durham Public Schools more than $70,000.