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Emergency Responders Investigate Calexico High School Mercury Spill / Parents are encouraged to contact their medical provider if they see symptoms described below

Release Date: 02/04/2009
Contact Information: Mary Simms, (415) 947-4270, simms.mary@epa.gov

For Immediate Release: February 4, 2009

    JOINT NEWS RELEASE ISSUED BY CALEXICO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, IMPERIAL COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH, CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL, AND THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

    Emergency Responders Investigate Calexico High School Mercury Spill
    Parents are encouraged to contact their medical provider if they see symptoms described below

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Emergency responders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the Imperial County Public Health Department are working together to investigate and assess mercury exposure that may have resulted from a January 29th mercury spill at Calexico High School in Calexico, California.

    On January 29, students at Calexico High School were handling a blood pressure cuff which burst, causing a mercury spill. School officials were unaware of the incident until the mercury spill was reported late Friday, January 30. School district officials acted quickly to notify the Imperial County Public Health Department on Monday, February 2, and emergency response procedures were immediately initiated.

    After consulting with Imperial County Public Health Department staff and the U.S. EPA, the local health officer made the decision to close Calexico High School yesterday, until further notice. This is being done as a precautionary measure against potential health hazards, and to protect students and staff. Parents were notified on February 3rd to not send students to school until further notice.

    Federal, state and local experts are working together to conduct air quality tests and to oversee clean up efforts and expect classes to resume at the high school soon.

    A preliminary investigation of the site will determine whether the mercury contamination was limited to those in the immediate vicinity of the campus. The EPA, DTSC and a private contractor are conducting air monitoring at the campus and at several residences.

    School officials have contacted approximately 200 students to report to the school cafeteria today at 1:00 pm to be screened. The students are a wide pool of those who may have walked through the material or have had some kind of contact with it.

    Elemental mercury is a shiny, silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. It’s often found in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, electrical switches, and science labs. When dropped, it can break into smaller droplets that can migrate into cracks and crevices, and become attached to shoes, clothing or skin. Mercury can cause serious health effects, especially for young children, when its vapor is breathed, or when it comes into contact with skin.

    Symptoms
    Mercury exposure can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Symptoms can start within a few hours of exposure and could include weakness, chills, a metallic taste, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, tremors and visual disturbances. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness, irritability and mood changes, delirium, insomnia, loss of appetite and respiratory diseases.

    Parents of children who may have been exposed to toxic elemental mercury are strongly urged to contact their medical provider so that their children can receive health screenings.

    Emergency actions to take following a mercury spill:
      Keep people away from mercury liquid to reduce exposure to vapors and to avoid cross contamination by walking in, or through, the liquid.
      Wash with soap and water. Remove clothes that have been contaminated and place them in a plastic bag for disposal.

      What Never to Do with a Mercury Spill
        Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.

        Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.

        Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.


        For more information on the web please visit: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm

        If you are a member of the media seeking further information, please contact any of the following contacts:

        David Groesbeck, Superintendent, Calexico Unified School District, at (760) 768-3888 x-3008

        Imperial County Public Health Information Officer (760) 482-4461

        U.S. EPA Media Contact Mary Simms, (415) 947-4270, simms.mary@epa.gov

        California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Sandy Friedman, Public Information Officer, (714) 484-5383 or Cell: (714) 598-6718

        Parents may call Imperial County Environmental Health at (760) 336-8530 if they have particular questions about the response to this incident.