The Illinois Department of Health confirms the action steps outlined below. The Stephenson County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health reviewed the quality of tests and the recommendation for the main gym and auxiliary gym exposure time.
As part of a recent Protection, Health, and Safety project, Highland Community College underwent an air quality and materials safety test for campus buildings. The College chose to conduct the studies to proactively ensure the air and material qualities of all campus buildings. Highland received the final results on May 29, 2019, from consulting firm Public Health and Safety Environmental and Occupational Services. The testing results for the main gym and auxiliary gym floors inside the Sports Center/YMCA (building S) indicated the floors are emitting low levels of mercury into the air.
The completed tests demonstrated levels were 0.0005 mg Hg/m3 (same as 500ng/m3) and 0.0004 mg Hg/m3 (same as 400 ng/m3). Although the levels were above minimal risk (200 ng/m3) and above chronic exposure (300 ng/m3), the detected amounts are far below the acute exposure risk.
The College will follow the guidance of the consulting firm and the Minnesota Department of Public Health (see resources, below) as they appear to be the industry standard. In the short term, both gyms have ventilation and ceiling fans set for optimal air exchange. Maintenance is also monitoring each room’s temperature. HCC understands the recommendations include limiting exposure to 16 hours a week for children and 40 hours a week for adults. Highland is working expeditiously to create a plan to remove and replace both gym floors.
History of Polyurethane Flooring
- Mercury is a metal that exists in liquid and vapor form
- Rubber-like floorings
- Manufactured from 1960-1980
- Some contain mercuric acetate
- Commonly used in gymnasiums or wherever a cushioned, all weather, non-slip surface is needed
- Mercury-containing flooring exposure affects health when inhaled as a vapor
- The level of mercury in the air determines the exposure time for people in the gyms
- children (ages 0-17) should not spend more than 16 hours a week in the gyms
- adults (ages 18 and older) should not spend more than 40 hours a week in the gyms
- pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant women should limit their exposure
Immediate Action Steps
- Communicate testing results to those most at risk for exposure
- Gym participants are encouraged to limit exposure time to either 16 or 40 hours a week (depending on age)
- Ventilating the gyms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Monitor the gyms temperatures
- Retesting after mitigation
Intermediate Term Action Steps
- Remove and replace the gym and auxiliary gym floors
- The College will determine a project timeline
- Continuous communication on the project status
- Monitor and verify safe levels during construction
Resources for More Information
- US Environmental Protection Agency website: Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury https://www.epa.gov/mercury/health-effects-exposures-mercury
- US Center for Disease and Control website: ATSDR, Mercury. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/toxzine/mercury_toxzine.html
- Minnesota Department of Health information packet: “Mercury Flooring Testing and Mitigation: Guidance for Environmental Professionals.” https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/hazardous/docs/hgflooring.pdf
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What if I fall on the floor?
A: The mercury is released in the air, not physical contact with the floor. With mercury-containing flooring, the concern is exposure to the elemental mercury, which could potentially have health effects if inhaled as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs.
Q: Should I limit my weekly exposure to the gym?
A: According to guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Public Health, adults should spend less than 40 hours a week in the gyms. Children should spend less than 16 hours a week in the gyms. Women who are pregnant or about to become pregnant should also limit their exposure.
Q: Do I need to worry about other mercury-containing flooring in the building?
A: Highland had the main gym and the auxiliary gym floors tested because in recent years, around the US, polyurethane or rubber-like floorings have released amounts of mercury in the air. These are the only two floors affected by the testing.
Q: Will I have exposure throughout the building from the ventilation system?
A: No, only inside the main gym and auxiliary gym. Continuous testing is planned to monitor safety levels.
Q: What steps has HCC taken to inform users of the facilities?
A: Highland promptly informed the YMCA of the issues and testing results. Copies of the testing have been made available. Appropriate information will also be distributed to HCC personnel, students, and other outside users of the facility.
Q: Who can I contact about my health if I have questions about exposure?
A: You can contact Craig Beintema at the Stephenson County Health Department for questions or concerns about your health. His phone number is 815-235-8271. A good online resource is cdc.gov.
For additional questions, please contact the Community Relations office at 815-599-3421.