Mercury Detection: It's a "Ruff" Job
Reported December 2006
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- It's not often that you see a four-legged student roaming the school halls, but this dog is on a mission. Clancy is the only dog in the United States trained to sniff out dangerous mercury.
"A lot of time the kids will break lab thermometers and try to sweep them down into the sink, and can continuously put out vapor that the students can breathe and the teachers can breathe," Carol Hubbard, a mercury specialist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in St. Paul, tells Ivanhoe.
She says breathing in that vapor can be dangerous. In young children, it can actually stunt their intellectual development.
But students at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have nothing to fear. Clancy can detect as little as a half a gram of mercury -- the same amount that spills out when a thermometer breaks. On command, he sits next to the hidden mercury and waits for his reward -- a tennis ball.
Student Andre Washington says, "If he's able to sniff out that stuff and save us from the mercury exposure, I think he's a really good dog!"
"He sniffs out mercury," David Hanvichid says. "That's an incredible ability that a dog can do!"
Incredible, but also in his nature. Dogs can detect odors 44-times better than humans. They pick up scents through folded membranes right behind their noses -- right in front of their brains. Humans' membranes are the size of a postage stamp, but dogs' are 50-times bigger.
Clancy finds unexpected mercury in a school supply room. Hubbard tests the area with her machine to make sure he's right. And he is!
"He is pretty reliable," Hubbard says. He's also quicker, cheaper and better company than her equipment. "We have gotten to be really good friends. He is my partner, so we have a lot of fun."
And they get a lot done! In the last five years, Clancy helped rid schools of more than 1,500 pounds of mercury.
Hubbard and her colleagues got Clancy from the humane society. They said they picked him because he was so responsive to tennis balls, indicating he'd work hard for his reward. It took her about two months to train Clancy. Both Hubbard and Clancy get their blood levels tested for mercury -- his every six months, hers every 12 -- and they've always tested normal.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
If you would like more information, please contact:
Minnesota Protection Control Agency
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Home Runs & Hole-in-One
This Month's TV Reports
Your golf swing and even next year's Spring Training gets better the higher you go.
Tracking Your Team
Red, blue, silver ... No matter what your favorite team's colors are, they're key to keeping your eyes on the game.
Sports Injury Prevention Performance
A new "motion monitor" prevents injuries and keeps athletes in the game.
What Makes Your Cereal Go Snap, Crackle, Pop
Rice Krispies has been around for nearly 80 years, but scientists only recently figured out why they make that signature sound.
Mercury Detection It's a Ruff Job
Meet Clancy, the only dog in the United States trained to sniff out deadly mercury spills in science classrooms and labs.
Safer Water Worldwide
A "PUR" American technology is making it possible for people worldwide to have drinkable water for less than 5˘ a gallon.
Mission for NASA
Look who NASA is relying on for scientific data: 5th and 6th graders!
CSI X-Ray Fingerprints
Using X-rays to better track down missing children and crime scene evidence.
Is Your Drinking Water Contaminated
Making your drinking water safer, quicker with this new software for first responders.
Detecting Deadly Chemicals
You haven't seen this gun on CSI! It's helping -- not hindering -- investigators by collecting delicate and toxic evidence.
Safer Scans for Pregnant Women
A scan often performed during pregnancy increases the chance of mother and baby developing cancer. This alternative keeps mother and baby safe.
Are You Really Paying Attention
Listen up! Do we have your attention? Be careful, this device can determine when you’re paying attention and when you’re not.