News Release 017

Department of Natural Resources oversees mercury cleanup at West Plains High School

Volume 38-017 (For Immediate Release)
Contact: Larry Archer

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, JAN. 15, 2010 -- Emergency responders from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are investigating a mercury release at West Plains High School.

Responders from the department's Southeast and Southwest regional offices were dispatched after the department was notified at approximately 1:20 p.m. by the West Plains Fire Department that a laboratory thermometer had broken on a concrete floor.

School staff made initial attempts to clean up the mercury. On the advice of fire department responders on the scene, school officials isolated and ventilated the area. Students who had been in the room where the spill occurred were directed to remove and bag their clothing for future screening, shower and redress in clean clothes.

Department responders will sample the air in the school using mercury monitors and oversee any additional cleanup necessary.

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.    

If class schedules are affected on Monday, the school will use the same telephone notification system as is used to notify students of snow days. Parents wishing more information can contact West Plains High School Principal Jim Laughary at 417-256-6150.

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:

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