Safety coordinator helps rid Ohio of neurotoxins

Mercury has been known as a dangerous substance.

But thanks to the work of David Heinlen, BGSU safety and health coordinator, Ohio and surrounding states have 14,600 less pounds of mercury to worry about.

Heinlen recently won the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Champion Award for his contributions to the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program through his work at BGSU.

Before Heinlen came to BGSU he worked for two health departments in north central Ohio. He came to BGSU in 1984 where he first worked as a safety inspector for the University.

“I came to BGSU for the educational setting that the other jobs did not have,” Heinlen said.

As a safety inspector he disposed of hazardous waste, which led to his current position.

The elemental mercury collection and reclamation program was started in 1998 by Heinlen after a report that young children had contaminated themselves as well as the building they were in.

“Because of the neurotoxins, mercury has major effects on children and infants. It affects their brains and development,” Heinlen said.

The BGSU program works with other offices around Ohio to help contain the mercury. Other groups include Rader Environmental Services, the Ohio Spill Planning, Prevention, and Emergency Response and the Toledo Environmental Services.

“We make it free of charge to residents, businesses and anyone who has mercury. We will get rid of it for free,” Heinlen said.

The Rader Environmental Services company located in Findlay also does work at the University.

“We are the arms and legs that pick the mercury up and take it to the facility at BGSU and process it into containers to make it more safe,” said Joe Rader, president of Rader Environmental Services.

In 2003 the program got an award called “Unique and Innovative Safety Program” for the recognition of what the mercury program here at BGSU has been doing.

“We collect the mercury and take it to a waste facility where it is stored until it can be consolidated and then sent off,” Heinlen said.

Emily Faeth, sophomore, said she thinks it’s impressive that the program is removing the mercury to make it safer for everyone.

“It looks really good on the University. It shows that the efforts have paid off,” Faeth said.

The program is on its way to meeting their goal of removing 15,350 pounds of mercury by April 2008.

“The program is what the award should also focus on, they need emphasis and recognition as well, not just me,” Heinlen said.

“It is good to know [our company] shares in the success of the program and to see someone get recognized for their hard work,” Rader said.

Heinlen is happy with how the program is being implemented.

“The program has done what it was intended to do and more,” Heinlen said.