Athletic Director Jake Neill stretches caution tape across an area of the high school grounds after another mercury spill was reported. Photo by Jim Headley

For the second time in four days, a hazardous material unit from Phoenix Fire had to be dispatched to Maricopa High School for a mercury spill.

Thursday and Monday nearly identical situations occurred in the school as mercury-filled equipment broke, releasing hazardous materials into a classroom. Thursday, the spill occurred in the culinary classroom while Monday’s contamination was in a science laboratory. Both spills were in the same building.

After the spill about 10 a.m. Monday, the 100 building was quarantined for mercury cleanup again. It had just reopened Monday morning after Thursday’s cleanup.

Maricopa Unified School District sent out information to parents regarding the incident: “Earlier today, a piece of science equipment containing mercury was broken in an area of the 100 building on campus. Under the recommendation of the Maricopa Fire Department, the 100 building was evacuated while Maricopa Fire Department and the Phoenix Hazardous Waste unit assisted with the situation.  In addition, the district has again contracted with a restoration specialist to evaluate the area and properly remove contaminated materials. Only one student and three adults were in close proximity and are being evaluated for possible mercury contamination.”

According to MUSD, the modified lockdown will be lifted at 12:40 p.m and all students will report to their seventh period class for the remainder of the day. Those will classes normally in the 100 building will go to the gym.

Future Freshmen Night will happen tonight as originally scheduled.

“Thursday, we had a similar incident take place,” said Ricardo Alvarado, Maricopa Police spokesman. “Students were using the old-style thermometers that have mercury in them. One of the students dropped the thermometer. It has larger amounts of mercury in it than most older-style thermometers have. So, it makes it into an incident.”

Alvarado said the mercury is a hazardous material problem because it can easily go airborne once exposed to heat.

“It can put off gasses,” Alvarado said. “The heat could be the flooring, or it could be a student touching it. It could already be hot by the way thermometers are used. The precaution is to make sure there are no students who are injured or have toxic levels of mercury.”

Phoenix HazMat was still responding to the scene. Alvarado said, “They are the ones with the specialized equipment to check, not only the students but the rooms.”

He said the room will be quarantined until it is cleaned up by a private contractor.

Student Joe Lambert said he was in the room during the incident. “What happened was that the lab assistant was in the lab prep room cleaning up the area when a thermometer fell. He walked in the room and told our teacher of the incident. They walked in to the lab prep room and I assume they assessed the incident. The teacher then informed the office of the situation. We then were moved to an alternate classroom and then sent to the football field. But the main thing is that it was all accidental and was not done on purpose.”

“We are looking into verifying if this was truly an accident or if this is something that may have been intentional,” Alvarado said. “It is a big disruption. The kids in that class and in the building will be evacuated. We are just making sure this wasn’t intentional.”

Alvarado said a school resource police officer and about 48 students were in the building at the time the thermometer broke and they were quarantined until cleared by the Phoenix HazMat team.

“Until they are cleared, we treat that as an exposure,” Alvarado said.

On Thursday Alvarado said the mercury-filled items that broke was brought to school by a student while Monday’s broken thermometer did belong to the high school.

“It is something we will be speaking about with the school and possibly changing those out. This is going to take several hours. I think last time we were out here for five hours,” Alvarado said.

The Phoenix HazMat Team responded to the spill under a mutual-aid agreement between the two cities.

 

A fire truck arrives at MHS. Photo by Jim Headley

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