A civil lawsuit was filed in McPherson County District Court Oct. 16 alleging Callabresi Heating and Cooling contaminated a McPherson home with mercury.
Susan Rush and her family are requesting damages in excess of $75,000.
Callabresi has offices in McPherson and Salina.
The spill was large enough, the McPherson Fire Department called in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Technical Assistance Response Team to deal with the contamination.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element. Pure mercury is a liquid metal. It has been historically used in thermometers, switches and some light bulbs, according to the EPA. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system of people of all ages, according to the EPA.
The Rush family was evacuated from their home, 623 E. Kansas Ave., for about a month from late October 2011 to late November 2011 as a result of the contamination and clean up efforts.
On Oct. 17, 2011, Callabresi employees, including Rick Gibson, who is named in the lawsuit, and two other employees began work in the Rush home to replace a Honeywell heat generator and other portions of the heating system in the home.
On Oct. 20, Callabresi employees allegedly dumped water from the expansion tank of the old boiler on the front lawn of the Rush home.
The EPA later found elevated levels of mercury in that area and removed and disposed of soil from that patch of lawn.
On Oct. 25. and 26 2011, Aaron and Adam Rush noticed water on the basement floor of the home. Susan Rush contacted Rick Gibson about the water, and he assured her it had nothing to do with the installation of the new heating system, according to the lawsuit.
Rush contacted Dave’s Plumbing about the water. Dave’s Plumbing came to work at the house, and Aaron Rush notices beads of mercury surrounding the top of the boiler and on the basement floor.
Susan Rush called Rick Gibson and asked him about the mercury. According to the lawsuit, Gibson assured her there was no problems and specifically told her not to contact the fire department about the mercury.
Rush contacted the McPherson Department anyway. The fire department immediately evacuated the Rush family from their home and contacted the EPA.
According to the lawsuit, the EPA Superfund team concluded the mercury contamination was released during the replacement of the boiler and Callabresi had failed to properly cleanup and respond to the release of the mercury.
The EPA further found, Callabresi had exacerbated the problem by dumping contaminated water on the front lawn; sweeping contaminated water and mercury beads down the basement floor drain and under storage containers; failing to contact authorities about the spill; removing and transporting the generator without proper containment; concealing the contamination; and not instructing the Rush family to contact authorities about the mercury release.
Page 2 of 2 - When the EPA evaluated the home, officials found elevated mercury levels in areas throughout the house, in the car and on the family cat.
The cat was bathed and allowed to aerate and was released to the family. The car was also aerated and released to the family, when mercury levels inside the vehicle dropped to safe levels.
Certain personal items in the house, including clothing and toys, were found to have elevated mercury levels. They were aerated, and the majority of these items were returned to the family, but some had to be disposed of.
A section of the home’s carpet also had to be removed and was disposed of.
The heating unit Callabresi installed was determined to be contaminated, and a new heating unit had to be installed at the conclusion of the clean up effort.
The EPA team also found elevated mercury levels in a dumpster at Callabresi’s facility in Salina where the old heating unit was placed and in the van in which the old heating unit was transported.
The EPA team ultimately found the mercury levels in the home had been reduced to safe levels and allowed the family to return to the home.
Jerry Callabresi of Callabresi Heating and Cooling was contacted for this story. He said the case has been turned over to the company’s attorney and he did not wish to comment at this time.
A jury trial has been requested in this case.