Mercury Spill Forces School To End Early

By: Laura Gibbs
By: Laura Gibbs

So when about 500 kids were evacuated from Kennedy Middle School Wednesday you can bet parents feared the worst. Less than a drop of mercury was released from a thermometer Tuesday afternoon. But it wasn't until this Wednesday afternoon that Winnebago County Health Department advised the school to take action. An hour before the school day was done parents started showing up to Kennedy Middle School in a panic.

Tina Webb stated, "You worry, but I just hoped in the car and headed on over."

Diane Roberts says, “I got a call that said please come pick your child up immediately. Yes, you think the worst with all that’s been going on.”

Parents were on the outside looking in as 7th and 8th grade students shoes became evidence. The health department wanted to make sure they didn't pick up any of the colorless and odorless substance in the hallway. But that wasn't the only thing that may have made contact. Before students could leave the building they had to take off their shoes and put them in plastic bags.

Dr. George Beranek specializes in emergency preparedness with the Winnebago County Health Department and reassures parents that, "The bottom of shoes would have been the area to come in contact. But with a small quantity involved it should not have been a problem."

Dr. Beranek says mercury can be absorbed through the skin and vapors can be inhaled. But he says such a small amount shouldn't pose any immediate or long term health risks. But parents waiting for their children say their kid’s safety should have never been put in jeopardy.

An environmental services agency from Chicago was called in to test all the shoes and the hallways. As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night school had not been cancelled for Thursday. If you have any questions about mercury a special hotline has been set up at the Winnebago County Health Department. Call 720-4242.


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