FOUND AT MIDDLE SCHOOL
A custodian working on sink drains in the science lab at the Archbold Middle School discovered a small amount of mercury that apparently leaked out of the drain system.
The mercury was discovered about 11:15 a.m., Friday, Sept. 4.
Monitoring of the air quality in the room, number 312, by an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official determined there was no danger, but students were evacuated from the room as a precaution.
A hazardous materials cleanup company is coming to the middle school Friday night, Sept. 4, to "give the room a thorough cleaning," said David Deskins, district superintendent.
In connection with the incident, the school district utilized its automated telephone alert system to begin calling parents to advise them of the situation.
"The phones started ringing at 2:56 pm," he said.
Andy Brodbeck, Archbold Fire Department chief, said firefighters are standing by outside the room to keep the area secure until the hazardous materials cleanup is complete.
Deskins said the custodian, whom he declined to identify, was working on sink drains built into individual lab stations in the middle school science lab.
Just as in a home, under each drain is a U-shaped pipe known as a trap. Its purpose is to trap a small amount of water to block sewer gas from coming back into a room through the drain pipe. In the science lab, wooden panels seal the traps; screws must be removed to gain access to them.
Students do not have access to the under-sink area.
When the worker removed the panel, he discovered a puddle of liquid under the trap.
At about 11:15 am, he began to use paper towels to clean up the puddle. He discovered a small amount of a substance, which he believed was mercury.
Mercury is a metal that, at room temperature and pressure, takes the form of a liquid. It is a proven health danger.
Deskins said the teacher was in the room at the time. The custodian left the room to call Dave Davis, the school custodial supervisor who is also a member of the Archbold Fire Department.
Deskins said Davis and the custodial worker returned to the room about 11:28 am; at that point, there were students in the room. They were evacuated.
AFD and the Emergency Services Agency were then contacted. AFD responded to the scene. Brett Kolb, Fulton County Emergency Services Agency director, contacted the OEPA and the Fulton County Health Department.
Deskins said the EPA official arrived about 1:30 pm. He tested an air sample and determined there was no risk.
The actual amount of mercury discovered was described by the custodian who made the discovery as about "less than half a teaspoon." Brodbeck said the amount was two drops, "about the size of the end of my little finger."
The EPA official checked the hands and clothing of the custodial worker, and determined he was not in any danger.
Between the time the custodian left to call for his supervisor and the time he returned, students had entered the room, but Deskins said he doesn’t think there was a chance for students to interact with the material.
Deskins said he has been told mercury has not been used in the middle school science lab for more than 10 years.
Mercury is heavier than water. It could have been in the bottom of the sink drain trap for years, covered by water. Because water would have covered it, it would not have presented an air pollution danger.
"We have no way of knowing how long it’s been there," Deskins said.
Deskins said he was not sure if the mercury leaked out of the trap on its own, of if the custodian may have dislodged it while working on the drain.
Plans were originally to wait until Saturday, Sept. 5, for the cleanup to begin. Deskins said he moved the cleanup forward to Friday evening.
For an update on the situation, please see the Sept. 9 issue of the Archbold Buckeye.–David Pugh. Posted 9.5, 5 pm