Date: Tue, 1 Jun 2010 13:35:41 -0400
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From: McGrath Edward J <Edward.McGrath**At_Symbol_Here**REDCLAY.K12.DE.US>
Subject: Re: Mercury from thermometers (again)
In-Reply-To: <9375A4B942930D458099C4FB6E0874A86766541E4A**At_Symbol_Here**>

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To Dr. Norwood:

A very thought provoking article.  I agree with many of your points, and disagree with some others.

Without picking apart my “likes” and “dislikes,” and also without a presumptuous lecture on the hazards of mercury poisoning, I’d like to offer the following insights:

I think your issue here (the one I would infer) is that a standard procedure for mercury spills in a school needs to be established.  We realize that mercury may not be used in any form during instruction—that has been in place in most schools for some time now.  That said, the reality is that mercury thermometers continually appear in lab drawers, desk drawers, and unlikely places.  This occurs even after annual scouring of facilities.  The point is, much as we like to think otherwise, the possibility of spilled mercury in our schools may be with us for a while.  We need an informed procedure, ensuring safety for everyone, but one that takes the guesswork out of “what measures are enough, and what measures are too much?”  An informed research based procedure like this will (hopefully) mitigate the “sky is falling” panic while assuring proper decontamination.

In the meantime, absent such a procedure, the rule of thumb in situations like this is to assume the worst case scenario.  Remember too, while this is true overkill in responding to the acute effects of elemental mercury, the real danger comes from the chronic effects of the metal.  If the school administration allowed students to go home with the possibility of mercury remaining on their bodies, the parents will hand those administrators their own heads on a platter.

Your final point about an unreported disaster truly drives home the point about the need for a standard procedure.  The difference between an effective response to an emergency and a tragic response to an emergency is establishment, enforcement, practice, and refinement of procedures.  The need for these procedures applies to the non-emergencies as much as for the true emergencies.

Edward J. McGrath

Science Supervisor

Red Clay Consolidated School District


office:  (302) 552-3768

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**] On Behalf Of Norwood, Brad
Sent: Tuesday, June 01, 2010 12:19 PM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Mercury from thermometers (again)

us_md: Students, School Staff Isolated After Thermometers Break 

BALTIMORE -- A group of elementary schools playing with thermometers caused a hazmat situation Friday in Baltimore. 

Fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said more than a dozen people were isolated after broken thermometers prompted concerns about the mercury inside. 

The incident occurred at Rodman Elementary School on West Mulberry Street. 

The students and staffers affected were to be showered in a decontamination trailer. 

There were no injuries reported. 

Cartwright said the students were playing with thermometers that broke and released mercury.

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Y’all knew this was coming, right?

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Once again, the absence of someone (anyone) with a cool head and a mere modicum of common sense has caused a heinous over-reaction to a non-situation.

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Before several amongst you inundate me with claims of how this really is a serious event, let me pre-empt your knee-jerk reactions to my statement:

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1)  Unquestionably, mercury is hazardous, and represents a severe chronic threat, particularly when exposures occur over an extended period of time.

2)  Proper remediation of the spill must be performed any time mercury is spilled.

3)  As noted in the earlier discussion, EPA must be notified if more than 454g are released.

 < /o:p>

But folks, seriously?  Decontamination of the staff and students?  This is patently and demonstrably asinine.  There is NO conceivable scenario, dealing with elemental mercury from a thermometer or two, in a room of moderate size and with normal ventilation, by which these folks were exposed to anything remotely warranting bringing in a “decontamination trailer”.  If there were an acute danger from playing with mercury from thermometers, I and most every science major in my generation would already be brain-damaged and/or dead.

 < /o:p>

Again, my main focus here is the fact that we are reinforcing MINDLESS FEAR instead of understanding and respect for chemicals.  If we, the ‘experts’ in response, don’t exercise wisdom and judgment, if we make every call to us a local disaster response, eventually someone will not report something because they don’t want to cause a scene – and that’ll be the one we will have really wanted them to bring us in on.

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Okay, I’ll take your flames now.

 < /o:p>


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 < /o:p>

Dr. Bradley K. Norwood

8302 Shady Ridge Lane

Mechanicsville, VA  23116

(804) 559-7212 (H)

(804) 271-5572 ext. 307 (O)

(804) 641-4641 (cell)


 < /o:p>

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence.
You cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

.....Abraham Lincoln

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 < /o:p>

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