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Mercury Spill Closes Pipkin Middle School

Students at Pipkin Middle School in Springfield got a day off today—not because of the H1N1 virus, which closed Delaware Elementary this week—but because of a mercury spill. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more…

The school was closed so that the Department of Natural Resources could clean up mercury which spilled from a barometer in a classroom last week.Theresa Bledsoe, spokesperson for Springfield Public Schools, says the district has been making an effort to round up and dispose of mercury instruments in schools. As part of that process, the mercury barometer had been identified at Pipkin…

"During the removal and transport of that instrument, it had determined that some mercury had leaked from it."

Bledsoe says the barometer was removed from a Pipkin classroom last week and taken to the nurse’s office, according to procedure.The instrument was taken from Pipkin to the designated collection site at the Doling Building yesterday by a school resource officer…

"And when he took it out of his car he noticed the mercury in his vehicle."

That led to a check of Pipkin where mercury was found in three rooms, including a 6th grade science room and the nurse’s office, which were then isolated and DNR brought in.Cleanup started yesterday afternoon. A special vacuum cleaner is used to clean up the mercury, then a cleaning solution is used, which binds to any mercury that's left. Finally, the room is heated for several hours and then fresh air is blown thru to remove any vapors that might be left. Randall Willoughby, on scene coordinator for DNR, says when they did initial testing Thursday, mercury vapors were above acceptable levels…

"Some of the values we were receiving were exceeding that threshold, multiple times above, especially in the rooms where there was still free mercury present in the floors, so the process of doing the heating and ventilating helps volitalize the mercury off the floors that can't be seen and can't really be picked up."

He says the Environmental Protection Agency arrived today to do final screenings after cleanup is complete to determine what, if any, vapor levels are left.DNR says parents who are concerned about their child’s exposure to mercury should contact the Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology or their personal physician.Willoughby says they’re hopeful that Pipkin will be able to reopen on Monday, but that it all depends on how cleanup goes and what else is found.For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.