News Release 239

Department of Natural Resources monitoring Caldwell County school for mercury vapors

Volume 38-239 (For Immediate Release)
Contact: Larry Archer

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, APRIL 21, 2010 – The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is monitoring a Hamilton high school for mercury vapors after school officials confiscated a bottle of the liquid metal from students this morning.

Officials from Penney High School contacted the department this morning to report they had seized a bottle of mercury from two students who had brought it to school and were playing with it in a classroom and in a common area. None of the mercury is believed to have spilled in the school.

As a precaution, department staff advised school officials to isolate the classroom and common area. The department dispatched an environmental emergency responder from its regional office in Lee’s Summit to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the scene to monitor for mercury vapors and to collect the mercury for proper disposal.

Even small amounts of spilled mercury can be hazardous. Liquid mercury releases toxic vapors that can contaminate indoor air for weeks if a spill is not properly cleaned up. Mercury can attach to clothes causing contamination to spread to homes and other areas. Repeated exposure to even low levels of mercury can cause mercury poisoning.

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:

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