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Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England

Grafton Street Elementary School Accidental Mercury Spill

Pint sized jar of mercury

On Sept. 21, 2010, an accidental release of mercury occurred at the Grafton Street Elementary School Building #2 in Worcester, MA. A sixth grade student brought mercury into the school in a pint sized jar and showed his friends and teacher. The jar was opened in the classroom and mercury was released from the jar – triggering a large environmental and public health response. Mercury is a liquid, metallic substance, which gives off vapors. When inhaled, mercury can be harmful to health – especially for young children. Teams of federal and state environmental and public health responders worked closely with officials from the City of Worcester to identify and collect potentially contaminated belongings of more than 240 students who were in the building at the time of the spill. Over 200 students voluntarily gave their belongings for screening and approximately 100 of these children's belongings tested positive for intermediate to high levels of mercury. 185 children, with their parent's consent, also voluntarily submitted their urine to test for mercury. All of the urine tests results came back clean -- mercury was not detected in any of the samples provided. The outreach effort and response from parents was particularly successful as more than half of the students come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken in the home. In a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of all families where children's belongings showed elevated mercury readings, nine teams of environmental and public health professionals from federal, state and city departments worked in unison to test homes for mercury. In many cases teams included Spanish-speaking interpreters to help explain the testing process to residents. The results of the screening showed that there was some minor contamination in six homes and more extensive contamination in the home where the mercury originated. All of the homes were cleaned up. At the same time that belongings and homes were being tested, the school was thoroughly cleaned and tested and was reopened on Sept. 28, 2010.

Location: Worcester, MA
Start date: 09/21/2010
End date: 09/28/2010
Contact: Claudia Deane (deane.claudia@epa.gov)

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