Saturday, April 07, 2001

Celina school closes after mercury scare

Student wanted to share chemical with classmates

The Associated Press

        CELINA, Ohio — A mercury spill at a middle school has contaminated a classroom, a hallway and a few lockers, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.

        “One room is heavily contaminated, but the spread of it really wasn't bad,” said Mike Gerber, an emergency response on-scene coordinator for the EPA.

        Mr. Gerber said special meters were used to detect which areas of Celina Intermediate School were contaminated. He said the school will be decontaminated by a contractor. Classes were canceled Friday.

        Thursday, a sixth-grader brought 2 to 4 ounces of mercury to school and began showing it to friends, demonstrating the chemical's properties by pouring it onto a table in a science room, Superintendent Hank Smith said.

        “I believe that the children were curious and did not understand the significance of the material,” Mr. Smith said.

        The 23 sixth-graders in the classroom stripped out of their clothing and took showers to reduce the chances of spreading the mercury throughout the school, Mr. Smith said.

        According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to high levels of mercury vapor can result in nervous system damage, including tremors and personality changes.

        It was unknown where the unidentified student found the mercury. Mr. Smith said the school does not have any mercury in its science labs.

        Next week is spring break for the district, and Mr. Smith expects the school to reopen April 16.

        Celina is about 30 miles southwest of Lima in western Ohio.

        Last month in northeastern Ohio, a student who took mercury from a school science was suspended 10 days.

        The mercury was taken onto a Sheffield/Sheffield Lake school bus carrying 47 students. Officials inspected 43 homes looking for traces of mercury.

        Only the boy's home had evidence of mercury, authorities said.


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