An Elementary School Evacuated after a Mercury Scare

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – North Shore responded to an emergency mercury spill at Lincoln Elementary School in Green Bay. Here is the story from WBAY-TV.

Classes are canceled at Lincoln Elementary School in Green Bay after a mercury scare. Students and staff should not come to the school, and the public is asked to stay off the school grounds, including the playground, until a hazardous materials team has finished its cleanup.

Principal Angela Hager says a student brought a vial to school which a silver substance they believe to be mercury. Hager says they were playing with it on the playground then brought it into the school.

“The students did open up the vial and they were moving it around, so some of it did get spilled,” Nick Craig, Green Bay Metro Fire Department said.

The fire department estimates 3 milliliters (mL) of the metal was spilled — that’s a little more than half a teaspoon.

Students were evacuated around 11 o’clock Tuesday morning after concerns about a possible mercury spill. They were initially outside of the school for half an hour, then sent back inside the building.

About 250 students attend the school on Buchanan Street on the city’s west side.

Students were reunited with their parents late Tuesday afternoon only after each student was checked by a hazardous materials team to ensure they’re mercury-free.

The principal says six fifth-graders, boys and girls, were directly exposed, playing with the substance with their hands.

Hazmat teams were called up from Madison and Milwaukee with newer, specialized devices to test all the students. That equipment picked up elevated levels of mercury on those six students who came into direct contact with it, and also detected it in parts of the school.

The fire department says the safety threshold for mercury contamination is rated a 10, and there were some areas of the school that tested at a 10. Most of the school was a 5 or less.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says when mercury releases toxic fumes and the health effects from low levels of exposure are unknown. Very high vapor concentrations can cause severe lung damage, and exposure over time to low vapor concentrations cause skin rashes, kidney abnormalities and memory problems.

All of the students were kept in a “determined safe area” of the school following the evacuation and were served lunch in the safe area. The district says students were required to be checked by medical personnel, and then each one was tested by a hazmat team.

“With that device they can basically wand kids and stick it near shoes and clothing, and in 30 or 40 seconds it can determine the presence of mercury,” Craig explained.

Students were finally released to parents and guardians around 4:30 — an hour past their usual dismissal. Parents were asked to bring a coat or blanket because the children couldn’t go home with the coat they wore to school.

“I raced down here and I was very upset, I was crying,” Alicia Goodwin, whose granddaughter attends Lincoln, said.

Because mercury contamination was on some of the students’ shoes, those students had to surrender them. Shopko donated shoes for those students to go home with.

“We do not want students to go home and then bring the mercury home if they have any mercury on their shoes,” Hager said.

Fire officials say with such a small amount of the substance, they don’t believe there is a large health risk to the public.

All after-school events Tuesday were canceled, including the winter concert and a cookie/craft event.

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