Mercury scare prompts action at Fairland Middle School

Published 10:35 am Friday, April 17, 2009

ROME TOWNSHIP —It was no doubt meant to be a really cool show-and-tell moment but it ended up with state and federal officials combing Fairland Middle School Thursday in search of possible hazardous materials contamination.

Fairland Superintendent Jerry McConnell said an eighth grade boy apparently brought mercury stored in a prescription bottle to school and poured it out on his desk to show fellow students.

“He elected to bring it to school without the knowledge of anyone and opened it up,” McConnell explained. “He had taken the lid off and taken the product out of the bottle to show what he had and then tried to put it back into the bottle by dragging it over the edge of the desk and trying to put it back in the bottle that way.”

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McConnell said he did not think the child meant to hurt anyone and probably did not know there would be a problem with his bringing mercury to school.

School officials first called high school chemistry teacher Ron King, who went to the middle school and helped direct a response.

Ken Ratliff, administrative assistant from the central office, coordinated assistance from the other agencies, McConnell said.

McConnell said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Lawrence County Health Department and Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency provided assistance.

Only a couple of students were in the classroom when the incident occurred. The classroom was closed off until an assessment of the situation was made. McConnell said the EPA sent a field representative with a device that measures contamination. Two desks and a 10-foot section of carpet were determined to have minor contamination.

Paul O’Banion, director of environmental services with the county health department, said the mercury was a liquid and therefore in its least dangerous form.

“Mercury is most dangerous in vapor form,” O’Banion said. “This was in its least risky state and wasn’t super dangerous.

“It was probably not pure mercury, probably an alloy. There was no way anyone could have inhaled it. It’s not like nerve gas but you still don’t want to get any on you.”

The emergency response to the situation, O’Banion said, was a precaution more than anything. McConnell said he is pleased with both the response from his own school staff and the cooperation he received from the state and local agencies.

The mercury met its end later after the child left school. Lawrence County EMA Director Mike Boster said Rome Township firefighters were later called to Township Road 1227 after the child took the mercury home and it was spilled there.

“They had it on the township road and were playing basketball and the basketball landed on the container and broke it and it spilled on the road,” Boster said.

Health department officials have given approval for the building to be used today, McConnell said.