(Editor’s note: Mercury fillings, mercury vaccines, and light bulbs with mercury are all ok but find some in a school and everyone goes crazy (allegedly the amount of a broken thermometer)? )

This week federal officials kept more than a thousand students at Walther Johnson Junior High School, after hours, while they were screened for exposure to the neurotoxin (the same one it’s totally fine to put inside you teeth- FYI- right by the brain that’s housed in your skull); high levels of exposure can cause mercury poisoning, which has symptoms like muscle weakness and speech, hearing, and walking impairment.

As you can imagine, when parents had to wait for their children- who were being held inside the school- for up to 17 hours, they were NOT HAPPY. I don’t have kids but I don’t blame them.

From the article:

“Authorities were investigating if a student brought the substance to Walter Johnson Junior High School on Wednesday, ‘forcing’ 1,300 students, teachers and first responders to undergo testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to Clark County School District police Capt. Ken Young.

It was important to officials that no one go home contaminated but some parents were vocal about the lack of information they received and the intensity of the response; the amount that spilled at the school roughly equaled what would be found in an old thermometer. And still other parents wanted to refuse the EPA screening just so they could get their children back.

The last group of people to be released left the school at 5 a.m. on Thursday, and school was canceled through Friday. Most parents waited outside for word about their kids.

More from the article:

“Students were quarantined in their classrooms until they were screened but were allowed to use the restroom. They received water, juice and food. First responders also coordinated with parents to deliver medicine to children as needed.

The fire department helped EPA workers conduct the screenings, which took about five minutes per person, though some had to be cleaned and checked multiple times. By 11 p.m. Wednesday, a fourth mercury-sniffing machine was flown in from California to speed up the process, Szymanski said.

It was the largest decontamination response the department has ever handled, he said.”

All 1,200 students- who were eventually cleared- were swiped with a wand that checked them for mercury residue and their shoes and backpacks were put into a garbage bag that was examined separately.

Those who were found to be contaminated were cleaned off with either hand wipes, chemical soap they dipped their feet into (how did it get on their FEET?), or by washing their hair and changing into a set of school-provided physical education uniforms.

The problems didn’t end there, though. When Mike Barton, Clark County School District’s chief academic officer, started the Thursday town hall meeting, to discuss with parents what had happened- all hell broke loose.

One of the questions that parents most wanted answered was just how much mercury had been found, where it was found and when. However, The EPA federal on-site coordinator didn’t have an answer, “It’s unknown how much material was spilled. A very little amount of mercury can go a long way in the way that it vaporizes and gets into the air.”

From the Review Journal article:

“However, Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said fire crews have described the amount to be about five to 10 drops.

(If you told me that, and I had a kid there, I’d want to know why in heaven’s name the process took that long for such a small amount.)

Nattis told them he arrived on the scene at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday with two additional mercury vapor analyzers, bringing the total to five, and he said his priority was to make the screening process more efficient. Once he arrived, the hazmat team began screening students at a rate of 100 to 150 an hour.”


We trust that the EPA and school system learned something about communication from this episode. We will keep you updated on this story if it develops and hope that all the families can relax after the horrendous end to their week.

 Source: WRAL and Review Journal