Between 1901 and 1904 the Marines Hospital Service quarantined and engaged in an extensive disinfection program of San Francisco's Chinatown, forcing the closure of over 14,000 rooms and eviction of thousands of Chinese whose dwellings were rendered toxic and uninhabitable from the disinfection program. Long-term mercury pollution is still a concern for construction workers in Chinatown to this day.
I searched the Google item for "mercury" without seeing this, but I suspect it only searched from part of the book. The book doesn't have inline citations anyway.
The story seems plausible. The Marine Hospital Service was at the beginning of a transition to become the Public Health Service and did oversee quarantines. Shudderingly enough, mercuric chloride was an over-the-counter "disinfectant" at the time. The quote implies but doesn't actually say that this campaign was the reason for modern construction workers' exposure, but it seems all too likely if the rest is true. The quote suggests something extraordinarily awful and racist in that era, also highly believable. But what is the full story?