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Mother of 11-year-old Wentzville girl suffering from mercury poisoning speaks out

WENTZVILLE, Mo. – Children from three Wentzville families are recovering from mercury poisoning after coming in contact with the substance through an old thermometer.

“It can absorb through the skin and you can inhale it and it will eventually find its way to the nerves and just start shutting them down,” said Dr. Peter Montgomery, SSM Health.

Side effects can include pain, vision loss, speech and hearing impairment.

Once spilled, mercury releases gas; making it easy to transmit but impossible to see.

“When you vacuum up mercury, it kind of spreads it and it can be hard to detect with the eye, so we have to rip out carpet, walls potentially, removing everyone’s personal items, heating and venting the homes. …It can be a very invasive process,” said Jessica Evans, EPA on-scene coordinator.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) screened the homes and found high levels of mercury.

Crews have taken over the households to clean them and rid the homes of the toxic element.

“Back in July, we all got rashes, fevers, headaches, went to the doctor and was just like it’s just a viral infection, we just need to give it time to get our body’s to work it off,” said Jennifer Niswonger. “Matti, however, just never got better.”

Since then, Niswonger’s 11-year-old daughter and their family have been going from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what was wrong. It wasn’t until recently that Matti was diagnosed with mercury poisoning.

“She is facing a long road. The accumulation treatment is a 23-day treatment and they think she’s going to have to have another round of it,” Niswonger said. “It can be months to come back to normal and if she can be in pain forever.”

Matti’s 2-year-old cousin Claire was also poisoned.

Now home, she remains on a ventilator and is still taking medicine.

“It’s just soul-crushing, just absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t do anything to take the pain away,” Niswonger said.

Six different Wentzille schools were recently screened by the EPA for mercury. Nothing was found beyond the homes.

The families have collected their belongings and are living elsewhere while the EPA disinfects their homes.

There is no telling how long it will take.

As for the Niswongers, they continue to spend a lot of time at the hospital where Matti continues her treatment. An online fundraising account was set up on PayPal to help with medical expenses.

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