BOSTON (CBS) – We all know even a small amount of a hazardous material can be dangerous.
That’s why it makes sense to call for help if there’s an accident at home.
The I-Team found that can be an expensive call for homeowners to make, however.
Some are receiving bills from the state that reach into the thousands.
Carol Neville didn’t feel well and wanted to take her temperature, but couldn’t find her newer non-mercury thermometer.
When she shook the old fashioned version, it slipped from her hands and hit the floor.
WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports
A small amount of mercury, a known neurotoxin, ended up on Carol’s bedroom floor.
She called the Scituate Fire Department and couldn’t believe the level of the response.
“Eventually more people came in vehicles, cars, trucks, and then the big haz mat truck came,” she explained.
“They started putting on the white suits right up over their boots and over their heads, hoods, thanks, and masks.”
A couple of weeks later a bill for almost $2,100 arrived for cleaning up that broken thermometer.
“I was outraged because I felt duped,” said Carol.
“That was the word I used with the Chief. I felt that he must have known that was costing me money, thousands of dollars, and no one said a single word to me, ever, about it, from start to finish.”
The I-Team reviewed state records and found case after case of homeowners being billed thousands of dollars to clean up household accidents.
For example, one homeowner in Amherst was charged $6,500 to clean up insecticides, and another in Yarmouth was billed $1,400 for a broken mercury thermometer.
The I-Team found state law mandates a person, regardless of whether or not he is at fault, is liable for the costs of cleaning up a hazardous spill, no matter the size.
Scituate Fire Chief Richard Judge understands why Carol Neville was so upset, saying “In this financial time no one wants a bill that exorbitant for something they didn’t think was necessary, but it is the protocol.”
The Chief added, “We have to do our job, and we did it.”
State senator James Timility of Walpole doesn’t believe the law was meant to go after homeowners, but corporations responsible for large spills.
He would like to amend the law so homeowners aren’t penalized for essentially doing the right thing by trying to have trained professionals handled these substances.
When asked exactly what he is proposing, Timilty said “To allow the State Fire Marshall’s office and the Haz Mat team, if there is no negligence, not to charge them. We would encourage people to call, it is better for the environment, it’s better for posterity, and it’s better for the homeowner.”
The State Fire Marshall supports the changes outlined in Senator Timilty’s bill.
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