Canine searches for dangerous mercury

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

BRAINERD, Minn. Clancy's not a drug-detection dog, but he sure has a way with chemicals.

The black and chocolate Labrador and hound mix is a mercury-detecting dog owned by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He helps the MPCA check schools and other facilities for spilled or hidden mercury.

Before Clancy got to work July 7 in the Brainerd School District, Denise Sundquist, the Brainerd health and safety director, introduced the dog and its handler to the district's Finance and Insurance Committee.

The handler, Carol Hubbard, MPCA pollution control specialist in St. Paul, said Clancy is one of three dogs in the world that can detect mercury. The other two dogs live in Sweden.

Hubbard said Clancy, who is about 4-1/2 years old, was acquired by the St. Paul Police Department in December 2000 from the Ramsey County Humane Society. Hubbard said the police department helped her train Clancy to detect mercury.

Chris Butler, from the MPCA office in Duluth, started the MPCA's statewide mercury-free zone program. The goals of the program are to reduce the risk of potential mercury exposure to students and staff, prevent releases of mercury to the environment and to educate students and staff about the dangers of mercury.

Mercury, a toxin that affects the brain and spinal cord, is especially dangerous to young children and fetuses. Mercury can cause alterations in nerves' ability to conduct impulses and changes in the way nerve cells divide. Other problems range from altered mental function and motor skills to cerebral palsy, mental retardation and even death.

Sundquist said the district asked Hubbard to do an assessment on Brainerd schools as part of its health and safety projects. The MPCA conducts assessments at no cost.

Hubbard said on average Clancy finds about 2.5 pounds of mercury per school.

She said mercury in schools is commonly found in mercury thermometers and barometers in science laboratories, fever thermometers and blood pressure units in nursing stations, and in hidden areas, such as floors or sink traps.

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