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Thread: Mercury Contamination in NC
05-24-06, 07:05 PM #1katiemh Guest
Mercury Contamination in NC
Durham Church, School Among Places Examined For Mercury Contamination
Elementary-School Classes To Resume Thursday Off-Site
POSTED: 9:05 am EDT May 24, 2006
UPDATED: 6:00 pm EDT May 24, 2006
DURHAM, N.C. -- Hazardous materials crews are decontaminating a church, four residences, a school and three school bus in connection with a mercury scare that has closed a Durham elementary school, and also temporarily shut down a UNC-Chapel Hill library.
Authorities said an air-conditioning technician passed out mercury to four children at a church called "Iglesia de Restauracion" on Ramseur Street near downtown Durham on Friday night.
Durham police said students had found a "very small" spill at Oak Grove Elementary School and that a student might have brought the mercury to the campus in a water gun.
At a news conference held earlier Thursday, health officials said the children sprayed the mercury on the hands of other children at the school. Those children, officials said were being interviewed and were also undergoing testing for possible contamination.
At this point, authorities do not know how many children may have come in contact with the mercury, but no one has reported any signs of sickness. Public health officials were expected to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss the ongoing investigation and to report on some early resting results.
WRAL has learned that police and Durham County sheriff's deputies know the identity of the technician who allegedly gave the children the mercury, and are in the process of trying to locate the individual. They said he does work for an air-conditioning company and that he might have had access to the element since it is found in thermostats.
The situation has been made more difficult, authorities said, because the four children involved in the investigation, as well as others at the church are Hispanic and the language barrier has slowed the flow of information.
Classes at the school were canceled on Wednesday, but Durham Public Schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger said classes would resume on Thursday for students, who are currently undergoing end-of-grade testing, under the following arrangements:
Buses will run as normal. School will operate on a regular schedule, from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Kindergarten students will be at Hillandale Elementary School, 2730 Hillandale Road.
First- through fifth-grade students will be at the Durham Public Schools Staff Development Center, 2107 Hillandale Road.
Students in grades 3, 4 and 5 will continue taking state tests on Thursday and Friday.
Parents who transport their children to school should take them to Hillandale Elementary (kindergarten) or to the Staff Development Center (grades 1-5).
Durham officials said that parents of children at the school should call the Joint Information Center at (919) 560-HELP if they have any questions and concerns about mercury.
Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are traveling to Durham from Atlanta to assess the situation and provide assistance to local authorities, who searched the school and nearby surrounding areas for traces of mercury.
They must trace the outbreak from where the children were first exposed -- at the church -- and where they traveled from there.
"Those homes are being evacuated. Those individuals are being decontaminated, in terms of their clothing that they wore over the last several days," said Durham County Health Director Brian letourneau. "(The clothing will) be bagged and tagged and tested. (Those affected are) being relocated to other temporary locations."
Hazardous material crews are first focused on finding areas with the highest levels of mercury, and then begin clean up, which involves moving everything that is porous from the school, church, homes -- such as carpeting, chairs and cushions and then heat the room to 80 degrees or more to evaporate mercury.
Workers in bio-hazard suits sift through garbage from Oak Grove Elementary School Wednesday morning.
State health officials had been concerned that a janitor working at the school might have been exposed to the mercury and taken it to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during his overnight shift at Walter Royal Davis Library.
"All I know is that I was working last night, like I normally do … but they said something about some mercury," Jesse McCrimon told WRAL. "And I don’t know nothing about it. I don't remember seeing (anything)."
McCrimon, who lives in Pittsboro and works two full-time jobs at UNC-Chapel Hill and at Durham Public Schools, said he was asked to return to the school with the clothes he was wearing tied in a plastic bag. He said he had no signs of mercury poisoning.
A UNC-Chapel Hill spokeswoman said no traces of mercury were found on employees and patrons inside the library and that the university’s Environment, Health and Safety Office, Department of Public Safety and State Emergency Management officials determined that there was no risk to members of the UNC community.
The library, however, was temporarily closed, and patrons inside were not allowed to leave for about two hours. The library reopened shortly before noon.
Mercury is highly toxic in vapor form and slightly toxic in liquid form. Touching, ingesting or inhaling can contaminate a person. The element can cause brain and liver damage and can be very harmful to a developing fetus. Therapy and drugs can effectively treat mercury poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different forms of mercury have distinct patterns of adverse health effects, and not everyone is equally susceptible to the effects of the element. Some people may not have symptoms, which include respiratory irritation and burning sensations.
Last October, a Granville County high school was closed for two days after school officials discovered eight to 12 fluid ounces of elemental mercury missing from a classroom.
Police said two students stole the mercury from South Granville High School on Oct. 11 after they might have become fascinated with the element after a science teacher performed an experiment. It was later recovered at two students' homes.
Authorities said the hazardous substance was not properly locked in a cabinet, making the mercury accessible to students on at least two occasions. The teacher was suspended with pay.
05-24-06, 08:48 PM #2
I knew it was hazardous as a vapor, but damn. I remember doing those science experiments in high school, and while we took the standard precautions as for any chemical we didn't treat it like these guys are.
But then, that may explain my occasional bouts of delusion.\\` ` ` ` < ` )___/\
`` ` ` ` (3--(____)
"...but to forget your duck, of course, means you're really screwed." - Gary Larson
05-24-06, 09:44 PM #3
My father had a new Mercury back when I was a young child.
Probably accounts for my brain damage now.
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