Luke_Wilbur Posted March 7, 2005 Report Share Posted March 7, 2005 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. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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