School mercury investigation expected to be complete Friday

The investigation into the liquid mercury spill at Carson High School on Sept. 14 continues by the Carson City Sheriff's Department.

"They expect to complete the investigation this Friday," said Mike Mitchell, director of operations for the school district to the board of trustees at its meeting Tuesday night. "Did the actual (blood pressure) machine break, or was it tampered with? We will have a report this Friday."

Six milliliters of liquid mercury, which is harmful through its vapors, contaminated the nurse's office, two hallways and four nearby classrooms.

Many people in the office the day of the spill were reportedly questioned.

At a cost of $7,000, the nurse's office is being re-done with new flooring - no carpeting this time - new ceiling tile, a fresh coat of paint and refurbishing of some items.

"Anything soft or fabric you can't clean mercury out of, you have to throw it all away," Mitchell said.

The actual cleanup, which started 4 p.m. Sept. 14 and continued until 10 p.m. the following day, is estimated at $15,000. A cleanup team from Reno was hired for the work.

The Carson City Sheriff's Department and fire department's hazardous- material teams were among the first to report to the high school after the spill was reported about 10 a.m.

Several school officials entered the nurse's office to confirm that a spill had occurred, and the inadvertently stepped on the mercury.

They were among the eight staff who were decontaminated about 4 p.m. that day.

"We had some of our best people in quarantine," said Mitchell.

Eighteen students were also decontaminated.

Also crucial to the cleanup were the Environmental Protection Agency and Carson City Environmental Health. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, while present, did not assist in any cleanup, but documented its handling, which could be helpful for any issues that arise later, Mitchell said.

The broken blood pressure machine, as well as three others from the school district, were given to the cleanup team for disposal.

Sept. 14 was the first early-release day for professional-development time in the district.

High school students were out of school at 12:30 p.m. Remaining personnel were evacuated.

"We followed protocol, we can tell you that," said Carson City School District Superintendent Mary Pierczynski. "Some would say it's a tempest in a teapot, but we did follow protocol."

Carson High was cleared of contamination at 10 p.m. that Thursday, and the decision was made to open school the following day. Pierczynski has written a letter to the state superintendent of education requesting that the day not be required for make-up. She said that unusual situations can elicit such approval.

"We anticipate that the day will be forgiven," she said. "Had this gone on longer, we would have been in a different situation."

The district will meet with Carson City Environmental Health next week to ascertain what was done correctly and what could be improved upon in a similar situation.

n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at or 881-1219.


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