Authorities work to decontaminate school after mercury spill |

Authorities work to decontaminate school after mercury spill

F.T. Norton
Brad Horn / Tribune News Service/ Kyle Whipple, 14, ducks under hazard tape after leaving the locker room at Carson High School in Carson City.

School and state environmental officials planned to work through the night cleaning up a mercury spill at Carson High School, but whether school will be in session today remained uncertain.

A blood pressure machine spilled about 6 milliliters of mercury onto the floor of the nurse’s office Wednesday, possibly contaminating at least 18 students and eight staff members, said Mike Mitchell, director of operations for the Carson City School District.

“We will keep at this all night until the school’s clean. If at 6 in the morning, it still isn’t, that’s when we will make the decision to close school,” he said.

Parents can check or television and radio reports to get updated information this morning. The first classes start at 7 a.m.

Mitchell said the nurse noticed the spill about 11 a.m., just 90 minutes before the school’s 2,526 students were set to leave classes early to accommodate teacher staff meetings.

“At this point we just don’t know the full extent of this thing. We still need to determine if the spill was significant enough to keep school closed tomorrow,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Van Cleemput.

The Carson City Fire Department’s Hazardous Material Team, with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency, conducted the decontamination of students and staff known to have visited the nurse’s office, said Firefighter Tom Raw, decontamination leader.

Raw said each person was asked to remove clothing and jewelry and then was tested with an air analysis instrument called a “sniffer.” Those shown to be contaminated by mercury were asked to shower with regular soap and water in the school’s gym locker room. They were free to go if the sniffer was unable to detect mercury on them.

“The kids are very cooperative and level-headed. They are doing a great job with it,” Van Cleemput said.

School Superintendent Mary Pierczynski said parents were called to pick up their children once they were cleared by the fire department.

Raw said the seized items would be tested and decontaminated later.

Van Cleemput said the EPA will examine the building and, if contamination is found, a company from Reno will clean the area.

Exposure to high levels of elemental mercury vapor can result in nervous system damage, including tremors and mood and personality alterations, the EPA said.

In January 2004, Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in Douglas County was closed for two weeks as state and federal hazardous materials experts checked air quality and surroundings for contamination after one youngster brought a vial of the toxic metal to school.

Douglas County officials estimated $100,000 was spent on the cleanup, including $50,000 for 1,700 square yards of carpet that was removed.

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