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Classes Resume at Calexico High School Following Mercury Spill/ Public Health Officials Declare it Safe for Campus Operations to Resume

Release Date: 02/05/2009
Contact Information: See below

JOINT NEWS RELEASE ISSUED BY CALEXICO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, IMPERIAL COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH, CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL, AND THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Classes Resume at Calexico High School Following Mercury Spill
Public Health Officials Declare it Safe for Campus Operations to Resume

SAN FRANCISCO – Following a temporary school closure, students at Calexico High School returned to campus today after Imperial County public health officials declared it was safe.

Emergency responders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the Imperial County Public Health Department have been working together to investigate and assess mercury exposure that may have resulted from a January 29 mercury spill at Calexico High School in Calexico, California.

Emergency responders surveyed the entire campus yesterday and found 12 rooms with elevated detection readings for mercury. Mercury was also found outside of the classrooms in three quad/transition areas. These areas will be fenced off and dusting sulfur has been applied to stabilize the material.

An ‘action level’ is an indoor air concentration of mercury vapor which prompts a response by public health and environmental officials. The EPA’s action level for mercury is 1,000 parts per trillion. Hazardous waste experts have found readings on campus above the EPA’s action level, and are taking steps to protect the public.

During the ongoing investigation, federal, state and local officials will continue to work together with the Imperial County Public Health Department and school officials to ensure that students and faculty are protected. Air monitoring is being done to ensure that people are not exposed to traces of mercury vapor.

An in-depth investigation of the site will determine whether the mercury contamination was limited to those in the immediate vicinity of the campus. The EPA, DTSC and a private contractor are conducting air monitoring at the campus and also at 20 – 40 residences.

The final investigation and cleanup is expected to take 3-5 days to complete.

Background

On January 29, students at Calexico High School were handling a blood pressure cuff which burst, causing a mercury spill. Approximately two tablespoons of mercury were released during the spill. School officials were unaware of the incident until the mercury spill was reported late Friday, January 30. School district officials acted quickly to notify city officials and the Imperial County Public Health Department on Monday, February 2, and emergency response procedures were immediately initiated.

After consulting with Imperial County Public Health Department staff and the U.S. EPA, the local health officer and the Superintendent made the decision to temporarily close Calexico High School yesterday. This was done as a precautionary measure against potential health hazards, and to protect students and staff. Parents were notified on February 3 to not send students to school until further notice.


Elemental mercury is a shiny, silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. It’s often found in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, electrical switches, and science labs. When dropped, it can break into smaller droplets that can migrate into cracks and crevices, and become attached to shoes, clothing or skin. Mercury can cause serious health effects, especially for young children, when its vapor is breathed.

Symptoms
Mercury exposure can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Symptoms can start within a few hours of exposure and could include weakness, chills, a metallic taste, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, tremors and visual disturbances. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness, irritability and mood changes, delirium, insomnia, loss of appetite and respiratory diseases.

Parents of children who may have been exposed to toxic elemental mercury are strongly urged to contact their medical provider so that their children can receive health screenings.

Emergency actions to take following a mercury spill:

    Keep people away from mercury liquid to reduce exposure to vapors and to avoid cross contamination by walking in, or through, the liquid.
    Wash with soap and water. Remove clothes that have been contaminated and place them in a plastic bag for disposal.

What Never to Do with a Mercury Spill
      Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
      Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
      Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

For more information on the web please visit: https://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm or
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaq.html.


If you are a member of the media seeking further information, please contact any of the following contacts:

David Groesbeck, Superintendent, Calexico Unified School District , at (760) 768-3888 x-3008

Imperial County Public Health Information Officer (760) 482-4461

U.S. EPA Media Contact Mary Simms, (415) 947-4270, simms.mary@epa.gov

California Department of Toxic Substances Control Chief of Public Affairs, Carol Northrup, (510) 407-4817
Parents may call Imperial County Environmental Health at (760) 336-8530 if they have particular questions about the response to this incident. If your son or daughter has any of the symptoms described above, please contact your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
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