DNR releases final report on school mercury spill

Published: Mar. 20, 2017 at 6:30 PM CDT
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A tiny, silver dot in the middle of a school desk. It doesn't look like much, but it's some of the mercury that caused a lot of problems for Lincoln Elementary School in Green Bay back in December.

We're now getting a unique, new look at the extensive cleanup and removal of mercury at the school.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officially closed the case this month, giving us a better understanding of what it took to clean up the mercury.

Four months ago we saw hazmat crews going in and out of the school but couldn't see up close the work they were doing to ensure students would be safe when they returned to school.

The DNR says students brought a vial of mercury into Lincoln. A photo of the vial shows it was no longer full, giving the DNR an idea of how much mercury actually spilled.

The DNR says the kids who brought it to school played with the mercury in a classroom, the gymnasium and near a locker.

The moment you touch a bead of mercury, it breaks apart and scatters into dozens of smaller pieces.

Contractors along with crews from the Environmental Protection Agency used a special vacuum specifically designed for mercury spills to contain and pick up the mercury in the gym.

They laid plastic down to create pathways through the school to keep the mercury from spreading. The cleanup crews wore special shoes to prevent it from sticking to their feet and spreading elsewhere.

All of this was done, the DNR says, to make sure kids don't inhale mercury vapors.

"It's a neurotoxin," DNR team supervisor Roxanne Chronert, who oversaw the response and cleanup, said. "So as young bodies are developing it can cause more harm, so you have young children who are lower to the ground, and we were talking earlier about how mercury vapors are so heavy so that's why they're at the greatest risk."

The DNR says a custodian at Lincoln is a hero. They say he's the school district employee who spotted mercury in the school and jumped into action because he'd seen mercury before at another school.

"At East High School, I believe, in 1999. He was also working at Lincoln, and he is the one who discovered it, and because of his experience he responded very quickly to it," Chronert said.

During the cleanup, students -- and their shoes -- were checked for mercury.

When Shopko heard what happened, Chronert says the retailer donated shoes so kids had something to wear home.

No one was injured from the spill, and the DNR says followup tests found no trace of mercury in the school or the home where the students lived.

Chronert says this spill is a good reminder for all schools.

"We're doing some outreach to schools -- both at conferences that are held for administrators, for custodians, and working through DPI -- to get this information into the hands of schools and encourage them not to have mercury in their school."