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Nev. hazmat crews decon teens exposed to mercury

10 students were exposed, one may have ingested mercury that a student brought to junior high school


Students who did not play with the mercury, but who were at school on Thursday, gave up their shoes before going through decontamination. The shoes will be destroyed.

Photo courtesy of the Winnemucca Police Department

WINNEMUCCA, Nev. — Hazmat crews, led by Humboldt General Hospital EMS Rescue, decontaminate students and adults exposed to mercury at Winnemucca Junior High School.

A student brought a salt-shaker sized container of mercury to school on the bus. The container spilled at school. Ten students and four adults were exposed to the mercury that may have been ingested by one student and underwent a full decontamination in hazmat tents at the school before being transported to HGH where some may remain for observation.

The school principal was alerted to the mercury just prior to 11 a.m. Thursday. Minutes later law enforcement began evacuating students while hazmat crews, assisted by fire departments, began decontamination efforts.

Exposure to mercury may result in cough and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. In some instances, mercury exposure may also cause problems with the kidneys.

Hundreds of children have minimal exposure

The scope of the incident broadened beyond the small group that was directly exposed. The bus that had transported the mercury to the junior high was also used to transport students to other schools. Officials at those schools were required to activate a shelter-in-place drill while students there were screened.

At the junior high, the mercury was spilled on the floor and tracked by students throughout the school. All students’ shoes were collected and their feet cleaned by hazmat technicians.

“The process to collect shoes and decontaminate the students feet could take several hours,” said EMS Deputy Chief Jason Manley.

In total, more than 400 students likely had minimal exposure to the mercury and received decontamination.

“We are fairly confident they will be OK,” said Dr. Stringham, HGH EMS Rescue Medical Director.

The district has cancelled school for Friday so professional crews may begin cleanup efforts.

Winnemucca Police Chief Eric Silva said law enforcement will follow up with the mercury-toting student’s parents after detectives have developed more information.