MacDonald House residents back home

Matt Kuhns

Residents of MacDonald House have returned from their mercury-imposed exile, but several loose ends from the incident remain unresolved.

The floor’s 54 occupants returned to their rooms in Helser Hall on Nov. 5, nearly two weeks after the Department of Residence closed the floor to clean up and investigate mercury contamination.

Randy Alexander, director of residence, said the floor was reopened when an independent laboratory confirmed that the rooms and hallway were free of mercury.

The bathroom where the mercury had been poured into a shower drain is still closed.

Alexander said the department is waiting on mercury readings for the shower. He said if the mercury level is acceptable, workers will replace the floor tiles, but if not they will have to remove more tiling and continue cleaning.

To remove the mercury from MacDonald House, Alexander said workers heated the house to nearly 100 degrees, then ventilated the area to clear out the mercury vapor.

While the floor was closed, the Department of Residence also replaced all the hallway carpeting and some carpeting in students’ rooms as well, Alexander said.

Cost of the cleanup is still unknown, though Alexander said it could be more than $10,000. He added that making the floor safe again was the department’s priority.

“How much it costs has never been our concern,” he said.

While the Department of Residence was cleaning their floor, the men of MacDonald House were relocated to temporary rooms, mostly in Towers and Buchanan Halls.

Bret Winterle, president of MacDonald House and junior in mechanical engineering, said the move did not terribly inconvenience any residents, although many personal items, especially clothing, were contaminated by the mercury.

“[Department of Residence officials] haven’t given us any word on whether their insurance will cover clothing,” Winterle said.

Winterle said several MacDonald House residents estimated their losses at more than $1,000 and were told by their insurers that the university should pay to replace contaminated items.

Alexander said the department is working with insurance companies to provide students with reimbursement.

With almost everything back to normal, the source of the mercury contamination remains a mystery.

Department of Public Safety Director Loras Jaeger said there have been “no real solid leads” in the investigation.

Jaeger said nearly all the MacDonald House residents have been interviewed, but none of the interviews has turned up anything substantial.

DPS is “still interested in any kind of information” about the mercury incident, Jaeger said. He added that the $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible still stands.