Man charged with spreading mercury in Durango

Suspect acquired element at job site he was cleaning

The man suspected of leaking mercury at six public places in the Durango area was released Monday from La Plata County Jail on a $1,500 personal recognizance bond.

Daniel Lee Plummer, 46, was ordered by La Plata County Judge Martha Minot to appear at 9 a.m. on Dec. 19 before 6th Judicial District Judge Jeffrey Wilson.

After reading Plummer his rights, Minot told him to be sure to appear or he’ll be on the hook for the $1,500.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to get out, but you need to stick around,” Minot said. “If you don’t, you’ll bring a world of hurt on yourself.”

Deputy District Attorney Tina Martinez represented the state. Heather Little from the La Plata County Public Defender’s Office appeared for Plummer.

An affadavit signed by Durango police investigator Burke Baldwin says there was probable cause to arrest Plummer on suspicion of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, and criminal mischief, a felony.

The affadavit said that two witnesses saw Plummer enter Manna Soup Kitchen on Nov. 27 with a large glass jar containing mercury in his backpack. Plummer dropped the backpack, causing the jar to break and leak a small quantity of mercury.

Weldon Ferguson, 60, and Thomas Yarrington, 50, told police Cpl. Glenn Edwards that they advised Plummer that mercury is dangerous and to report the spill to authorities. Plummer didn’t heed the advice and tried to clean up by putting the mercury in two smaller plastic containers.

Over the next 24 hours, Plummer went from the soup kitchen to the Durango Transit Center, the Durango Post Office, South City Market, Town Plaza Coin Laundry, the Durango Public Library and the Volunteers of America community shelter.

Plummer asked to be taken to La Plata County Detox the evening of Nov. 28. After mercury was discovered at Detox and later the other public places, he was sent to jail.

An Environmental Protection Agency team from Denver and a restoration from Salt Lake City did repeated evaluations and cleanup starting Friday and over the weekend.

Thirty residents who were evacuated Friday from the homeless shelter were able to return. As of Monday, all the places Plummer visited, including La Plata County Detox, were able to reopen to the public.

La Plata County Detox, the most contaminated of the six sites, officially opens today.

Plummer obtained the mercury from an old residence he cleaned, said Karola Hanks, the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority fire marshal, who was the spokeswoman for the multi-jurisdictional investigation.

The jar that contained the mercury measured about 6 inches in height and 2 to 3 inches in diameter, Hanks said.

Plummer led authorities early Sunday morning to a tent in which he was living so it could be evaluated for mercury, Hanks said. The location of the camp was not released.

Hanks said that while the overall cost of the incident has not yet been calculated, it is feasible that the EPA could absorb the total amount.

Levels of mercury are measured in nanograms, Hanks said. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website, mercury levels occurring in urban air can be between 10 and 20 nanograms per cubic meter. In nonurban settings, it can be much lower.

She said the Detox showed levels of between 25,000 and 30,000 nanograms per cubic meter, calling it extremely contaminated.

“Those numbers were extremely high,” Hanks said this weekend.

“So Detox is going to take a couple more days at least to clean up and make sure that we get it,” Hanks said.

Hanks said that the city and county have a strong ability to work with agencies in emergency situations.

“It just goes to show that we have a very good working relationship with other organizations,” Hanks said.

“We saw it during the Missionary Ridge fires, and we’ve seen it in other emergencies. We’re just extremely appreciative to have that.”