High school presses mercury cleanup

Broken barometer taints South Carroll's science area

work almost done

August 25, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

A mercury spill from a barometer in the science teachers' office at South Carroll High School has officials pushing to make sure the school is safe for students returning next week.

An inspector from the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has been monitoring cleanup efforts since late last week, was expected last night to conduct additional testing to determine whether the area can be safely occupied.

Principal George Phillips expressed cautious optimism.

"I anticipate things will be good to go" by this morning, Phillips said yesterday. "That's my hope anyway." He said the cleanup contractor, AEG Environmental, told him that things appeared to be in good shape late yesterday afternoon.

The spill was discovered a week ago by a science teacher who had come for materials to prepare for the year. When she entered the office, she found "a couple drops of mercury" on a counter and summoned custodians, Phillips said.

The custodians cleaned the area and placed the barometer and other contaminated materials in plastic bags, according to a letter being mailed to parents today.

The building supervisor then notified the plant operations department, which decided an environmental contractor would be needed to decontaminate the area.

Other areas that were contaminated included a custodial storage closet, a hallway and a stairway leading to the outside, Phillips said.

He said that someone apparently had placed a mercury-filled barometer atop a shelf to store it when science classrooms were being renovated several years ago, according to the letter.

The letter also indicated that all mercury was removed from schools last year, but the barometer was missed because it was out of sight.

"This summer, while we were cleaning, someone placed some boxes on top of the cabinet," Phillips said in the letter. "In moving stuff around, [the barometer] was broken, unbeknownst to anyone."

Elemental mercury generates a vapor that can be toxic if someone is exposed to high levels for a prolonged period, said Bob Swann, a hazardous materials response supervisor with MDE.

"We're working with the school system and with their contractor to make sure levels of mercury vapor are low enough to allow people to occupy those areas," Swann said.

Phillips said he expects the school, which has an enrollment of about 1,150, to be ready for new-student orientation tomorrow. School starts Monday.

"We anticipate that all areas of the school, other than the teachers' office area, will be cleared prior to [Monday]," Phillips told parents in the letter.

Yesterday, the only space to be cleared by MDE was the science office. But even after the office is cleared, it will be a while before it can be used again, Phillips said. Furniture and other office equipment that could not be decontaminated must be replaced.

In the meantime, the office for eight science teachers likely will be relocated to a portable.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.