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EPA Superfund emergency response action completed in Hancock County, Mississippi

Release Date: 09/16/2003
Contact Information: Laura Niles, EPA Media Relations, 404-562-8353
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed emergency decontamination and cleanup of mercury found at the Charles B. Murphy Elementary School, three rooms at the Hancock High School, and school bus numbers 9, 35 and 69 in Hancock County, Mississippi. Items containing mercury found at the schools and on the buses were decontaminated or discarded. Based on confirmation sampling data that verifies the cleanup goals, no further action is planned at this time.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms. The metallic mercury found at the schools and on the buses is a shiny, silver-white, poisonous, odorless liquid at room temperature. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. Mercury can be found in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, dental offices, blood-pressure devices, fluorescent light bulbs, and even in some tennis shoes that light up. Liquid mercury evaporates at room temperature and gives off harmful, invisible, odorless vapors.

The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury, although some forms are more harmful than others because of how the body reacts to them. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and a developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors also cause other effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation. Blood or urine samples are used to test for exposure to metallic mercury.

The EPA, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and Hancock County School District urge students to see the school nurse or a local physician immediately if they came in direct contact with the mercury and are experiencing any of the symptoms indicated above.