Updated 10/13/07: Our school, Eagle Ridge Academy was the lead story on at least one local news channel (KSTP Video KARE Video) tonight. A considerable amount of liquid mercury (UPDATE: two teaspoons according the the StarTribune) was found to have spilled or was intentionally released into a cabinet in the science room.
Reportedly, one student was found to have been markedly more contaminated from the neck down and could potentially be the perpetrator (update: the school has since retracted this in an email to parents, citing conclusive evidence found by authorities).
(Update: A staff member's child, presumably who is not a student at ERA, was apparently the person responsible for the spill.)
While these as yet unfounded rumors as to the cause and the conditions that may have contributed to the mercury spill, the potential costs of such a spill could be devastating.
Questions will revolve around the care in securing the school's supply of mercury and if in fact a student is implicated, what responsibility that student and his or her parents will bear for the cost of decontamination and cleanup.
Costs can range from a couple thousand to tens of thousands of dollars to clean up a mercury spill in a school not to mention days or weeks that the school may need to remain closed for the cleanup.
Students witnessed multiple emergency vehicles and hazardous material personnel on hand while they sat in chartered buses in the parking lot for several hours.
School is cancelled tomorrow.
Does a school have insurance for this? Could an event like this cripple a young school financially and result in its closure?
Conversation at our dinner table tonight culminated in a valid question:
Why do schools need to have Mercury on hand in the first place?
Even a small amount of Mercury spilled in a room can evaporate slowly and contaminate the entire room. Exposure to Mercury can lead to hospitalization and long-term health effects. Heavy exposure to the vapor can lead to death.
The more I search the Internet and learn about mercury, the more utterly unbelievable it becomes that there is any valid or practical reason for a school to keep it on hand.