Department of Natural Resources oversees mercury cleanup at Springfield Middle School

Release occurs during roundup of mercury instruments

For more information: 573-751-1010
Volume 37-386 For Immediate Release: Oct. 15, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. -- Emergency responders from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are investigating a mercury release reported this afternoon at a Springfield middle school.

The department was notified early this afternoon that a barometer that was being removed from Pipkin Middle School, 1215 N. Boonville Ave., as part of an effort to rid the school of mercury instruments that had leaked in several locations, including at least one classroom, in the school nurse's office and in the police patrol car of the school's resource officer.

State on-scene coordinators from the department's Southwest Regional Office in Springfield responded to the school this afternoon to begin taking air samples to determine the levels of mercury vapor in the rooms where the releases occurred. The results of air sampling this evening will determine the level of necessary cleanup. An environmental cleanup contractor has been hired by the school district to conduct the cleanup under DNR supervision.

According to initial reports, the barometer was removed from the wall of a classroom last week as part of the school district's mercury sweep and leaked an unknown amount of mercury when it was laid on its side in another classroom and later in the nurse's office. The school resources officer noticed the leaking mercury in his patrol car when he was transporting the barometer today. He was the first to report the spill to school officials.

Springfield Public Schools will have updated information on the status of classes on Friday on its website: springfieldpublicschoolsmo.org/. Parents of Pipkin Middle School students will be notified of updates via the school's telephone notification system.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Greene County Health Department were also notified and have been assisting the school district with health-related questions concerning mercury.

According to the Department of Health and Senior Services' Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology, any possible health issues for students will depend on their length and level of exposure to mercury vapors. People who are concerned about potential exposures may contact the Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology at 573-751-6102 for more information on mercury exposure or their personal physician for medical concerns.    

Metallic mercury is liquid at room temperature and has no odor. It was once commonly used in thermometers, barometers, switches and blood-pressure measuring devices.

When spilled, some of the metal will evaporate into the air and can be carried long distances. Mercury is toxic when inhaled. Improper clean up with a vacuum, paintbrush or household cleaner increases exposure by dispersing the mercury into the air. For more information on cleaning up mercury spills, see the department's website: dnr.mo.gov/env/mercury-cleanup.htm.

To report an environmental emergency, including mercury spills, please the contact the Department of Natural Resources' spill line at 573-634-2436. For more information about the Missouri Department of Natural Resources contact the department at 800-361-4827 or 573-751-3443, or visit the department's Web page at dnr.mo.gov.

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