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Fall River man melts fillings in search of silver, unleashes mercury fumes, poisoning residents and animals

A Fall River man trying to melt dental fillings to extract silver unleashed dangerous mercury fumes that poisoned him and two residents, allegedly killed four pets, and forced the evacuation of a six-unit apartment building Saturday, authorities said.

A resident of 110 Hamlet St. took himself to the hospital Jan. 28 after trying to melt dental fillings in his apartment kitchen on the second floor, but told no one, a fire official said.

“They think he was boiling, extracting, what he thought was silver out of fillings from teeth. The problem is the mercury, when it gets to a melting point, produces vapors. He was breathing in mercury vapors,” Fall River Fire Captain Neil Furtado said.

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After the man’s girlfriend called the fire department Saturday to report her dog and three cats mysteriously died, Furtado said firefighters were forced to evacuate the building because of high levels of mercury.

The woman and her 17-year-old daughter were taken to Rhode Island Hospital where the teenager was quarantined “with levels of contamination,” Furtado said.

“We’re not sure what long term effects she’ll have,” Furtado said.

Firefighters had not had a chance to speak to the victims, but Furtado said the man was told by a relative there was a valued metal in the teeth.

“Allegedly, his grandfather was a dentist and he had all these fillings he thought were silver, he figured if he could extract them, he could make some money,” Furtado said.

The apartment building only had three occupied units, and the other three residents were moved to a motel by the landlord, said building inspector Glenn Hathaway.

“I’ve been told mercury contamination cleanups are very expensive. I was told don’t be surprised if the cleanup is worth more than the [building],” Furtado said.

Hathaway said of the man who boiled the mercury, “I don’t believe he’s doing well.”

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Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Emergency Response was called in initially, and the Environmental Protection Agency was on scene Monday morning with Hathaway.

It is still unclear how long the building will be uninhabitable.


Sabrina Schnur can be reached at sabrina.schnur@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sabrina_schnur.