Student brings mercury, spills it at school; no one hurt

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 20, 2015 8:13 PM

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Environmental cleanup crews planned to continue work through the weekend at a rural northern Nevada school after a student who brought mercury to his junior high spilled the hazardous substance in hallways and on a bus carrying children to three other schools.

No one was injured, but at least four children had direct contact with the mercury and had to be decontaminated Thursday at Winnemucca Junior High, about 170 miles east of Reno, the Nevada Division of Emergency Management said.

Emergency crews evacuated the school and decontaminated the feet and shoes of 400 more students. About a dozen students were taken to the hospital for observation, but no illnesses were reported.

"Everybody is fine," said Pat Songer, chief of emergency medical services at Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca. He told The Associated Press on Friday that all 14 people they examined there had been released.

Mercury exposure can lead to cough, vomiting and diarrhea and, in serious instances, kidney problems.

A student apparently got the mercury from a relative's garage and brought it in a salt shaker to show his friends, Humboldt County Schools Superintendent David Jensen said.

In addition to the junior high, the district closed Lowry High School, French Ford Middle School and Winnemucca Grammar School because the school bus involved also was transporting students to those schools, Jensen said.

The evacuation was ordered at Winnemucca Junior High shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday after authorities determined students who apparently stepped in the mercury spilled in hallways spread it throughout the building.

Officials for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were assisting in a review of the incident, Jensen said.

School officials said on the district website late Friday that they expected the high school to resume classes on Monday, but they wouldn't know until Sunday whether any of the other schools would remain closed.

"The EPA has been working at the locations determining any potential effect. At this point, Lowry High School has been cleared and they are working on French Ford and Winnemucca Grammar," the district said.

School officials said they would post an update by Sunday afternoon about school schedules, as well as information about the status of shoes some of the students were told to leave behind following the evacuation.

"The EPA has indicated that they will scan each pair of shoes. Those with no concerns will be released to students, while shoes that have mercury contamination will be destroyed," the officials said.