SWEDEN: mercury sniffer dogs clean up Swedish schools

More than 1.3 tonnes of hazardous mercury has been collected at around 1,000 schools participating in the "Mercurius 98" project, led by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury sniffer dogs Ville Sigmund and Froy saved at least SEK 7m in clean-up costs.

The Alsatian Froy and the Labrador Ville Sigmund from the Sollefteå Dog Training School hunted for hidden mercury in sinks and floors. They sniffed through nearly 6,000 rooms in over 1,000 schools. They were able to spot mercury in 1,600 out of 20,000 water traps, which are now successively being cleaned up.

“The collection of mercury at primary, comprehensive and upper secondary schools has surpassed our expectations”, says Kristina von Rein, project co-ordinator at Swedish EPA.

“We counted on collecting 0.5 to 1 tonne of mercury, but the result was much higher. The dangerous metal was found on shelves, in instruments, in sinks and in crevices in the floors. Most of the waste has now been taken care of. In cases where the schools want to continue using certain instruments, these have been labelled with warning signs”, she adds.

The “Mercurius 98” project has been jointly run by Swedish EPA, schools and environmental health departments in 244 local authorities. The collection started in southern Sweden a year ago and has spread to cover the whole country. In the next few days all participating councils and schools will receive a certificate from the Swedish EPA.

The Swedish government is aiming to phase out the use of mercury by year 2000. Swedish EPA has funded around 50 detection and collection projects around the country, Mercurius being one of them.

“We are presenting the results of these projects to the government on 1 November this year”, says Kristina von Rein. “At the same time we are putting forward proposals on how to continue with the clean-up of mercury, e.g. how industry can get rid of hidden mercury in machinery and how residue in pipes and sewers at redundant dental surgeries and hospitals can be cleaned-up.

The Dog Training School in Sollefteå specialises in training guide dogs for the blind. They also breed dogs to sniff mines, drugs, mould and mercury. Work is under way to find a breed specialised in finding the toxic pollutant PCB.

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