Mercury discovered at Las Vegas school
Mercury contamination occurred at Walter Johnson Junior High School in Las Vegas on Wednesday, resulting in a lengthy decontamination process that was the largest ever conducted by officials in Clark County. The Clark County Fire Department assisted the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the testing and decontamination process.
A teacher discovered mercury after noticing students playing with a liquid substance silver in color in the gym during a school assembly. The teacher reported the discovery, and officials from the local fire department then confirmed that the substance in question was indeed mercury. This prompted a massive decontamination effort that impacted approximately 1,300 people, including students, teachers, and first responders.
Authorities confined students to classrooms, but students were provided with food, water, and juice, and were allowed to use the restrooms. Parents and first responders coordinated the distribution of medication for the quarantined children.
Testing and decontamination
Testing took about five minutes per individual, although some individuals had to be retested several times. Shoes and backpacks were labeled and placed in garbage bags for further testing, while contaminated students underwent various decontamination processes. Some of the processes included stepping into a chemical soap tub, hair washing, or a complete change of clothes into school-provided physical education outfits.
According to the EPA, mercury poisoning can occur after high levels of exposure. Symptoms include speech, hearing and walking impairment, and muscle weakness.
Parents express frustration, anger at lack of information
The testing lasted until early Thursday morning. In a meeting held Thursday night, some parents expressed anger at the lack of information being provided during the intense response and the testing and decontamination time, which lasted about 17 hours.
Some also criticized the school district for not releasing the levels, and raised concerns that the mercury may have been present in the school since last Friday. Some believe that some students handled mercury as early as Tuesday, some of whom may have carried the contamination to their homes.
Mercury may have been present at school days prior to lockdown https://t.co/5ldYE6bmHV
— Las Vegas News (@LasVegas_NV_USA) September 9, 2016
School officials canceled classes on Friday, and authorities are investigating how the substance came to be in the school while the EPA is focusing on the approximate week-long decontamination of the facility.
The on-site EPA coordinator cited a total of about five to 10 drops of mercury in the spill, but the danger, according to Randy Nattis, is that even "a very little amount of mercury can go a long way in the way it vaporizes and gets into the air."