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Archives 1995

R&R's safety efforts praised by neurologist

Staff Writer
PECOS, Aug. 31, 1995 - After dealing with the element
mercury for 20 years, neurologist Dr. Robert C. Burton has
concluded that the local battery recycling plant poses no
threat of toxicity to its employees.

Aside from his professional, private practice, Burton has
traveled all over the world while dealing with his
specialty, and has researched various plants that involve
some type of handling of the liquid metal.

Burton said neurology is a special form of medicine that
deals with the nervous system, involving the brain, nerves,
spinal cord and muscles.

He began his specific vocation and in-depth research of the
chemical element when he was asked to form a study of a
large Nevada mine that dealt solely with the mining of

During his visit to the Recovery and Reclamation, Inc. plant
this week, Burton stated that it is important to familiarize
the three forms of mercury beginning with the most toxic
form, which is Organic Mercury. "This particular compound is
extremely dangerous and poisonous."

A second form is Mercury Salts, which are potentially toxic
if swallowed. Neither of which are involved in the recycling
process at R&R he said. "I have found no traces of any of
these two," at the plant, adding, ''there is nothing in the
process (recycling) to produce hese two forms."

The five-year-old plant does, however, deal with the third
form, which is Elemental Mercury. "There are small
quantities (of this form of mercury) in batteries," Burton

The combination of this type of mercury and high heat can
cause it to vaporize and potentially be inhazard. he said,
"but this company has done a marvelous job of controlling

Mercury toxicity has been a variable concern in regards to
the practices at R&R located just west of town. After fires
last month and in October of 1993, along with various
employee complaints of physical problems, local residents
have questioned the safety of the recycling facility.

But one employee, Frankie Herrera, general maintenance
supervisor, feels that those rumors have stemmed from
persons not fully aware of the process. "Most of the people
that talk don't really know what really goes on here," he

Herrera has been with the company for two years and said
that he has never experienced any physical complications,
nor to his knowledge, has any of the employees he works with.

Another employee that feels quite comfortable with his job
is Danny Dominguez, who stated that part of his duties as
safety engineer require the monitoring of vapor levels with
the utilization of a 431X Jerome mercury vapor analyzer.

He stated, "I found what the doctor (Burton) said...levels
(mercury vapor) are very low."

Dominguez said that the Personal Protective Equipment,
available to all plant employees, are utilized to the
highest extent and he feels "safe" working at R&R.

Burton highly commends the plant's strict, safety program
and stated that after visiting the different buildings and
with the employees, the company follows several guidelines
involving the improvement of ventilation, good hygiene and a
clean work area.

"They follow a rigid safety program. They have covered all
their bases," he said.

He stated that areas where mercury inhalation is possible,
employees wear special masks.

The plant monitors the levels of mercury exposure through
employees' urine samples. If an employee's results indicate
that their level of exposure has risen, said Burton, then
the program requires that the source be found and the
situation is taken care of immediately.

"If you have good programs in place and a low level of
mercury, as they do here (R&cR)," he said, "then elemental
mercury poisoning is unlikely." He stressed, "it takes an
extremely high level of mercury to produce toxicity."

"Areas where high mercury levels are discovered," said
Dominguez, "are usually under controlled conditions." He
explained that the vapors are caught in a vacuum.

"Special sequestering chemicals are used in spills," said
Dominguez, in detailing the program's preparedness, and
added that safety is an ongoing issue that the department
will continue to upgrade.

Burton said that after visiting with employees, he
understands people's concerns, but added that mercury has a
bad name if one doesn't understand its distinct forms and
level of toxicity.

He hopes that through his visits he was able to relay some
education on the element and the form they are working with,
as well as stress the importance of the safety measures that
the company strictly upholds.

Electrical Foreman Joe Tollett said he had not had any
physical difficulties in his nine months on the job, adding,
You almost have to be trying to get into anything," to get
into some sort of trouble.

"They really push it," as far as safety goes, said Tollett.

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Pecos Enterprise
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321

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