Salt Lake City officials held a hurried news conference Wednesday night after preliminary testing revealed the potential presence of mercury in Fairmont Park’s pond.
Barely an hour before the 8:45 p.m. news conference, the city’s Department of Public Utilities announced the potential contamination. The city was working on testing that would confirm contamination exists in the pond.
Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 office — which includes Utah — will work Thursday with the city on further analysis.
The city is unsure of the source of any mercury, said Public Utilities Director Laura Briefer, but the contaminant can come from industrial sources or processes. The pond’s water comes primarily from springs with some stormwater flowing in as well.
“I want to reassure our community that, at this point, we have no reason to believe there is a risk to public health associated with these findings,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “Right now, we’re taking these extra precautions of alerting the neighbors and closing the waterways in Fairmont Park, because the safety of our residents is paramount to us.”
Briefer said testing of the water, along with a sheen observed on the pond’s surface a few weeks ago, indicated that mercury may be present. She advised people and pets to stay out of the water, and that barricades and signs will be placed nearby with those warnings.
There is no risk to anyone up or downstream that officials know of at this time, Briefer said, and that based on the concentrations that were already detected, they don’t think there is a risk of immediate danger for anyone who may have been exposed to the pond. Outreach to an unhoused community that frequents the area also occurred Wednesday night.
“This is not connected to Salt Lake City’s drinking water system at all, so our drinking water system is not at risk,” Briefer said. “In fact, this water is not used for irrigation either. So the risk of exposure is, we believe, quite small. But again, we just want to make sure that we cover our bases, and we do the appropriate analysis and testing to properly characterize the situation.”
Public Lands Department Director Kristin Riker said that the park will remain open and regular activities will continue while testing is completed, with the pond and stream area taped off.
“There have been concentrations of really low levels of mercury, primarily from atmospheric deposition in different water bodies in the region [previously,]” Briefer said. “This may be more acute, which is why we’re focusing on this and taking the precautions that we are currently.
“At this time, I don’t think there’s cause for concern, but please avoid the pond at Fairmont Park and obey the signage out there,” she said Wednesday, “and we will be updating everybody tomorrow as we receive more information.”
Salt Lake City urges caution after finding mercury may be in Fairmont Park’s pond /p>