Mercury spill cost district $140,000

MINDEN - A Jan. 6 liquid mercury spill that closed Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School for more than a week cost an estimated $140,000 to clean up.

Planned replacement of the carpet and use of a high-efficiency purifier vacuum to clean up the mercury cost $90,000. New gym lockers were $20,000, while the cost to replace the gym floor was $5,000, according to school officials.

Douglas County School District Superintendent John Soderman said the district has paid for the damages and will submit its expenses to its insurance company for reimbursement.

If that is unsuccessful, the district will seek assistance from federal and state agencies to help defray costs. Soderman said the district's contingency fund has covered costs, but he wants help from other agencies so money will be available for other purposes.

If the claim is covered, the school district will pay a $5,000 deductible, according to Rick Kester, director of business services.

None of the federal or state agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection and the Nevada Department of Health, charged for its involvement in the January cleanup.

Kester said the EPA assists in paying for costs of toxic spills, but to his knowledge schools are not allowed to apply for EPA assistance.

Students missed eight days of school while the Gardnerville Ranchos building was cleaned. As a result, students will make up eight days at the end of the school year, which now ends on June 23. Staff considered a variety of solutions to make up missed days, including Saturday school and school over Easter break. In the end, the extra days at the end of the school year were determined to be the best solution.

"A day for a day is the best way to make up the time," Soderman said. "There was as much of a conflict during Easter break as during summer. There's just not going to be a great situation any way you look at it. That's been the story of the whole mercury spill."

He said the liquid mercury spill emphasized the importance of emergency plans. Many schools, including Pau-Wa-Lu, have backpacks at key locations with important information, including attendance lists, to check in an emergency.

The district is also considering picture identification for all Douglas County School District staff, so that during an emergency school personnel are distinguished from others.

The student who brought the liquid mercury to school on Jan. 6 has been expelled for at least a year.


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