High school students exposed to mercury

January 13, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Four students were briefly exposed to a small amount of mercury during a Health Occupations class at Washington County Technical High School Thursday afternoon.

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The students were taken to Washington County Hospital with no apparent injuries.

"They're not showing any effects," said schools spokeswoman Donna Messina. "It's strictly precautionary."

The students were showered twice as part of a decontamination process. Two custodians who may have been indirectly exposed were also treated, according to Principal Arnold Hammann.

"They may have touched a contaminated dustpan," he said. "We automatically follow procedures."

The mercury leaked out of medical equipment used to measure blood pressure, according to Messina. The emergency call for a hazardous materials spill went out at 2:14 p.m.


A special operations team responded. Emergency radio reported the amount of mercury as 20 milliliters, about two-thirds of an ounce.

"They were pretty well taken care of at the scene," said Maureen Theriault, hospital spokeswoman. "They were showered over there and showered again over here." After a doctor's consultation, the students were sent home.

The student's names were not released. Their parents were notified, Messina said. The school's other students left on time and the special operations team appropriately removed the mercury and cleaned the classroom, according to Messina.

Mercury is a heavy, silver-white metallic chemical element that is liquid at room temperatures. Because it expands and contracts with temperature changes, it is used in many household, medical and industrial products.

Also known as quicksilver, mercury is toxic in small quantities and prolonged exposure can be harmful to humans. It can impair hearing, sight and brain functions. But the students had very brief exposure, according to Messina.

"No length of time elapsed," she said.

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