Some residents arrived home to find fire trucks and hazmat teams surrounding their apartments.
"All I know is mercury is involved," Anna Nguyen said.
According to firefighters, a male resident had two pounds of mercury in a Crown Royal bottle in his apartment. A female friend picked up the bottle to make a drink and dropped it, spilling the mercury.
HFD said the man tried and failed to clean the spill up with a medicine dropper, so he threw the dropper down the trash chute and contaminated that as well.
The fifth floor was found to have unacceptable levels of mercury, and it remains closed.
"If you've ever tried to pick mercury up, it's particularly difficult. I can't imagine what they're going to do, particularly if there are wood floors present," said resident Jim Honey.
HFD said the apartment management is responsible for the remaining abatement of the mercury, but the health department will oversee the process.
"He didn't give a clear reason for why he had mercury. He said he had two pounds in a jar for whatever reason. We aren't clear on that," added HFD spokesperson Sheldra Brigham.
Two firefighters tested for low levels of mercury, but no one has been transported to the hospital.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to even small amounts can cause serious health problems. Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
The WHO considers mercury to be one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.
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