What do I do in the case of a spill?

Most small mercury spills (such as a spill from a thermometer used to take a person's temperature) can be cleaned up by following these instructions:

  • Never pour mercury down the drain.
  • Keep people away from the spill to avoid contact with mercury and to keep from spreading it.
  • Keep the room where the spill has occurred at below 70-degrees to minimize evaporation. Close all heating and air-conditioning vents in the room until the clean-up is finished.
  • If the weather allows, open exterior doors and windows. Keep air flowing through the room to the outside but close doors to other parts of the building to avoid spreading the contamination.
  • If you can't find the mercury, ventilate the room to the outdoors for at least 24 hours.
  • Contain the spill. Build a berm around the mercury with rags or other disposable material to keep it from spreading
  • If the spill was on a hard surface, work from the outside of the spill toward the center. Use a card, stiff paper or a plastic squeegee to push the mercury together to form larger and larger droplets.
  • Push the droplets into a plastic dustpan or pick them up with an eye dropper or turkey baster. You may also be able to pick up small droplets with tape, but be careful. The drops won't always stick.
  • Collect all of the mercury into a sealable plastic bag or a plastic container with a lid that will seal tightly.
  • The mercury and anything that has come into contact with it should be taken to a hazardous waste recycling facility for appropriate disposal.
  • Useful items for cleaning up mercury:
    • Rubber squeegee
    • Plastic dust pan
    • Plastic trash bag
    • Zip-shut plastic bags
    • Plastic container with a screw on or other leak-proof lid
    • Eye dropper or other suction device such as a turkey baster
    • Index cards or stiff paper
    • Tape – electrical or duct tape works best
  • DO NOT use an ordinary vacuum cleaner or a shop vac to clean up mercury. Vacuuming mercury will blow vapor into the air and increase the chance that someone will breathe it in. It will also contaminate the vacuum cleaner.
  • DO NOT use a broom or a paint brush to clean up mercury. These devices will just break it into smaller and smaller droplets.
  • If someone's shoes or clothing has come into contact with mercury, do not let them walk around in your house. They can easily spread the contamination.
  • More information about cleaning up small spills can be found at these locations:
    • Mercury Spill Information and Clean up Guidance - Explains why mercury spills are dangerous, what you should do if a mercury spill occurs and lists some common items that can release elemental mercury if mishandled. 
    • Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts - Solid waste districts provides services for solid waste planning, household hazardous waste education an disposal, recycling, market development, education programs and technical assistance.

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Mercury and Our Environment 

Significant quantities of mercury have been found in many Indiana streams and in our air. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management maintains a list of which Indiana water bodies are not expected to meet applicable federal water quality standards. Mercury is one of the pollutants of concern that water quality testing screens for. Indiana water bodies with mercury levels above the federal standards are identified on this list.

The Indiana State Department of Health issues a fish consumption advisory for fish in many Indiana streams because of mercury contamination. This listing places specific fish species, located in specific water bodies, into five different categories based on the amount of contaminant they contain. More information including healthy fish consumption guidelines and information about how consumption advisories are developed is available from the State Department of Health.

Most mercury that is released into the air from coal-fired power plants, incinerators and industrial boilers comes back to earth's surface with rainfall. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), mercury has been detected at precipitation monitoring stations throughout North America. IDEM and the U.S. Geological Survey operate a precipitation monitoring network in Indiana. IDEM publishes the currently available data summaries for the Indiana Monitoring Network.

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Four boat ramps in the City of Fort Wayne provide access to the St. Joseph, St. Mary's and Maumee Rivers.


pdfMap of boat ramp locations







Shoaff Park Boat Ramp -- see map

  • Gravel ramp on St. Joseph River
  • Vehicle parking available
  • Located near the Riverlodge on the west side of Park
  • Operated by Fort Wayne Parks Dept.




Johnny Appleseed Park Boat Ramp -- see map

  • Located downstream of the St. Joe Dam
  • Concrete/gravel ramp on St. Joseph River
  • Vehicle parking nearby
  • Operated by Fort Wayne Parks Department





Guildin Park Boat Ramp -- see map

  • Located north of Sherman Street bridge and east of Michaels Street
  • Gravel ramp on St. Mary’s River
  • Handicap accessible
  • Vehicle parking available
  • Operated by Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Maumee River Boat Ramp -- see map

  • Located across North River Road from Kreager Park
  • Concrete ramp
  • Parking available

What is mercury and why is it a concern?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal and is a chemical element. It is also one of the primary pollutants of concern in Indiana. It cannot be artificially produced and it does not break down into other substances. Although mercury is a metal, it is a liquid at room temperature. Because of its chemical properties, it conducts electricity and is especially useful in a variety of electronic devices and in industrial applications. Mercury is also highly toxic to humans and wildlife. In humans, it can damage the liver, kidneys and brain. If ingested, mercury can affect the central nervous system. Mercury also accumulates over time in the bodies of animals, including humans, meaning that prolonged exposure to small amounts of mercury can potentially be as dangerous as exposure to a large amount at once.

Because mercury is a liquid at room temperature, it forms beads that can accumulate in the tiniest places. These mercury droplets can give off odorless mercury vapor. Breathing this vapor can be very dangerous depending on how much mercury is in the air and how long you breathe it. Small children and pregnant women are at the highest risk for health impacts from mercury, but everyone can be affected.

As a pollutant, it stays in the environment for a very long time. About two-thirds of the mercury found in the environment today is there because of human activity. Mercury is released as pollution when coal is burned in electric generating plants. It also comes from industrial processes and from improper disposal of household products that contain mercury. Because mercury is a liquid and because it easily evaporates into the air, it can enter our environment very easily. It is believed that much of the mercury in rivers and streams is actually deposited there from the air. Once mercury is in the environment, it can be very difficult to clean up. It spreads easily and stays around for a long time. A very small amount of mercury can cause a big problem. Just 3 grams of mercury can contaminate a 60 acre lake. A typical mercury thermometer alone contains ½ to 2 grams of mercury. Three grams equals about 1/25 of a teaspoon.

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River Levels

Fort Wayne's rivers are natural systems and, just like other rivers, the levels and depths fluctuate for a variety of reasons during many times of the year. Fort Wayne City Utilities has a limited ability to affect river levels by adjusting two dams - one on the St. Joseph River near Johnny Appleseed Park and one on the Maumee River near Anthony Boulevard bridge.

Maumee River & Hosey Dam 

Fort Wayne City Utilities can lower river levels by a few feet by opening a gate at the Hosey Dam on the Maumee River and allowing more water to flow downstream. Opening this "tainter" gate is similar to opening a drain in a bathtub. However the difference is that opening the gate does not allow the rivers to empty completely. Even when the gate is open, only a limited amount of water can flow out of the river system. So it is possible to have river flooding even if the gate is open. The likelihood of flooding depends on the amount of rain received in the City and upstream on the St. Joseph and St. Mary's Rivers.

hosey003Between October 15 and April 15, the tainter gate is left open and rivers fall to a low winter pool level. Between April 15 and October 15, the tainter gate is typically closed and the rivers rise to their normal summer pool level. Sometimes during the summer, the level of Fort Wayne's rivers may be lowered for planned construction or maintenance projects. Log jam removal, bridge or dam repairs, and sewer improvement projects are just some examples of work that might necessitate the lowering of river levels. The Tainter Gate Policy was established in 2007.

St. Mary's River

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) operates several river level gauges around Fort Wayne. The gauge located on the St. Mary's River at the Main Street bridge most clearly shows the impact of opening or closing of the tainter gate. Real time data showing the depth of the St. Mary's River at the Main Street Bridge is available from the USGS. If it has not bee raining, looking at the USGS data before and after the tainter gate is adjusted can give you an idea of how changing the gate affects river levels in Fort Wayne. The USGS can provide you with instant, customized updates of water conditions through their Water Alert Program.

St. Joseph River

In the spring, the level of the St. Joseph River north of the dam at Coliseum and North Anthony Boulevard is raised. This is done by inserting extensions called "flashboards" that raise the level of the dam so that more water can pull upstream. This helps to ensure that the City has an adequate supply of raw water to use for making treated water during the dry summer months.

The flashboards are usually put in place in April and removed in October or November. In order to insert or remove the flashboards, the river level on the St. Joseph River upstream of the dam must be temporarily lowered so that work can be done safely. The water level is lowered by opening gates at the St. Joseph River Dam and allowing water to fall to a lower level upstream of the dam. After the boards are installed, the gates are closed and river levels return to normal. It typically takes one to two days to adjust river levels.

Special Events Affected by Water Levels

If you are planning an event that rewuries the City's rivers be certain levels - either high or low- please email City Utilities at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will make every effort to accommodate requests if possible. Requests for river level adjustments must be received at least 30-days in advance of the event.