Student Arrested In Mercury Contamination Case - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

09/26/03

Student Arrested In Mercury Contamination Case

There's been an arrest in the mercury contamination case at Bay High School. School officials announced Friday that a tenth grader at the high school was charged with brining the mercury to school. The 16 year old boy was not identified.

The mercury was found Wednesday afternoon, and forced students to evacuate the building. The school was closed Thursday so hazardous materials crews could clean up four classrooms, a bathroom and the hallways.

Authorities say the boy hasn't told them where he got the mercury or why he brought the substance to school. So far he's only said that the mercury fascinated him.

"If the intent was found to harm the school or anybody in it, we could be looking at jail time or prison time," Gerald Fore with the EPA said.

Bay-Waveland Superintendent Kim Stasny says the child's parents may be liable for the cost of the clean up, which could total between 50 and 70 thousand dollars.

The exact charges against the boy are malicious mischief and disturbing the peace. Hancock County Youth will handle the initial case, though the investigation could be handed over to federal agents.

For years, people have been exposed to mercury, either through certain kinds of fish they eat, or when students used to play with it in school science labs. Thermometers once had mercury in them too.

Health officials say there's a legitimate concern about being exposed.

Dr. Bob Travnicek, with the State Health Department, says the contamination at Bay High and Charles Murphy School in Pearlington had to have exceeded EPA standards. He says that's why it was necessary for crews wearing protective clothing to remove the mercury from the schools.

Travnicek says mercury can cause numerous health problems, even though he can't say to what extent.

"Whether the short term exposure like this, how detrimental that is, I can't really speak to that cause I really don't know. But that's really not the issue. The EPA is obviously a valued member of the health care team and they're there to clean the environment up and keep it clean. Mercury is one of the concerns that's been identified by the scientific community," Travnicek said.

Travnicek says mercury exposure can cause skin irritations and digestive and central nervous system problems.

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