Garbage truck spread waste from Martinez mercury spill, residents advised to avoid walking parts of downtown

Contamination from the mercury spill discovered in the Martinez Amtrak parking lot on Monday is wider than initially believed, according to Contra Costa County health officials. A garbage truck inadvertently spread the hazardous waste. 

On Tuesday evening, Contra Costa Health issued a Level 2 Hazardous Material Public Health Advisory for areas of downtown Martinez near the train station. "Minor mercury contamination was found in the street on Martina Vista to Alhambra to Buckley to Berrellesa. If residents must be in the area, please stay on the sidewalk," the health agency advised, shortly after 8 p.m. 

Contra Costa Health's hazardous materials team, along with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified small amounts of mercury in the roadway on a five-block route taken by a city of Martinez garbage truck. 

The contamination is limited to the streets, officials said and has not been found in amounts great enough to cause an immediate risk to health. People and their pets are being told to use sidewalks, so they don't track the mercury indoors. 

If tracked inside, "Indoor vapors may pose a health hazard," said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county’s health officer.

Portions of the streets the material was found on will be closed for several days for cleaning. "Marina Vista Avenue between the station and Alhambra Avenue; Alhambra from Marina Vista to Buckley Street; Buckley from Alhambra to Berrellesa Street; Berrellesa from Buckley north to the Martinez City Public Works yard," health officials said. 

The Martinez Amtrak station has been closed since mid-Monday. Officials said ambulance paramedics from Confire, who were responding to an unrelated medical call, discovered the spill around 3 p.m. The mercury was also detected inside the train station itself. 

"Anyone at the Amtrak station Monday or anyone who walked along the affected streets that thinks they may have stepped in mercury should take precautions to avoid contact with it. Shoes or clothes that have touched mercury should be double bagged and sealed shut and placed outside. Call our Hazmat Program at 925-655-3200 during regular business hours for further handling instructions," health officials said. 

If your shoes or clothing touched mercury, do not bring it inside if you can avoid it, officials said. You should not attempt to wash potentially mercury contaminated articles by hand or with a washing machine. Officials said this could increase the risk of being vaporized. 

The mercury spill is being investigated by local law enforcement. Health officials said they don't know who dumped mercury at the Amtrak station or why.