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Mercury Spills Up In High School Labs


Luke_Wilbur
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As mercury spills in schools disrupt classes, teachers and environmental groups want to rid student labs of the versatile but dangerous metal.

 

In recent weeks, mercury was found in stairwells and corridors of a high school in the nation's capital. The building had to be closed twice for decontamination and still more traces were found yesterday even as cleaning crews were wrapping up their work in preparation for reopening the school today.

 

"We're shocked," said Leonie Campbell, a District of Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman.

 

The building would be closed again today, school officials said. They were searching for an alternate location to hold classes.

 

Although the spills get headlines, the use of mercury in schools actually is declining, said Ken Roy, a physics teacher in Glastonbury, Conn., and co-chairman of the National Science Teachers Association's safety advisory board.

 

"The awareness is so high now that I would say a good part of it (mercury) is gone from schools," Roy said. "The problem comes when a teacher retires, and someone new comes in and finds a horde of it in a cabinet in a chemical storeroom. You've got to dig for it."

 

In its elemental form, mercury is shiny, silver and odorless. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature.

 

In schools, mercury is found in fever thermometers, electronic light switches and other equipment. It is most common in science labs, where mercury-filled instructional tools have been used for many years.

 

Mercury turns into a problem when it is spilled and evaporates into airborne vapors, which can be absorbed into the body through breathing.

 

Exposure to high levels of metallic mercury can damage the brain, kidneys and lungs. Prolonged exposure to lower levels can cause problems with sleep, sight, hearing and memory, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency has encouraged schools to remove mercury compounds and mercury-containing equipment. The agency is helping schools dispose of it.

 

At least nine states have created programs to speed up the removal of mercury from schools through lab clean-outs and educational outreach to teachers, the EPA said.

 

Over the past few years, reports of mercury spills have come from Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Nevada.

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The District of Columbia Department of Health today told DC Public Schools

officials that classes can resume Wednesday at Hardy Middle School, 1819 35th Street, NW, now that cleanup work on a Monday mercury spill has been completed.

 

The DCPS’ Office of Facilities Management hired an independent environment contract to do the cleaning. Once the cleaning was complete, air quality samples were taken. The results came back showing no significant levels of mercury, thus the school is safe for students to return Wednesday, DCPS officials said today.

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Guest Lightning

What is to prevent someone selling small bags of Mercury in front of the school? Yes, its a retorical question! What are the laws in MD & DCVA area to prevent this?

 

Other states are into this problem & laws to regulate. Did the EPA laws pass in 2002?

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On May 13, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the

Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (the

Battery Act). This Act represents a major step forward in the

effort to facilitate the recycling of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and

certain small sealed lead-acid (SSLA) rechargeable batteries and

to phase out the use of mercury in batteries.

 

This booklet explains what this important law means to you.

It equips readers with the "basics" on the Battery Act and

provides information on successful recycling programs for

rechargeable batteries. In this booklet, you will find:

 

* A summary of state and federal requirements affecting

battery recycling prior to passage of the Battery Act

 

* A summary of the Act's requirements

 

* Why proper disposal or recycling is necessary for Ni-Cd

and SSLA batteries

 

* State, local, and private-sector initiatives to recycle

used rechargeable batteries

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Guest Mary N

Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA is supposed to draw up a list of the U.S. power plants with the lowest mercury emissions and tell other plants to meet that standard.

 

According to the Inspector General's report, EPA staffers said that if the rule had been crafted according to the law, mercury from power plants would be limited to no more than 25 tons a year.

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