75 people checked after mercury spill in high school

Published August 16, 2006

SARASOTA - More than 75 Cardinal Mooney High School students and officials were checked for exposure to mercury Tuesday after the toxic liquid metal leaked from a vial in a student's backpack.

"We had 20 people, including faculty and students, who showed some level of mercury on their clothing," said Paul Dezzi, a Sarasota County assistant fire chief.

Seven students came in direct contact with the mercury, which spilled onto a classroom table, Dezzi said. No one showed signs of illness.

The private school was closed while a hazardous materials team and a cleanup contractor evaluated the extent of contamination.

The student apparently found the vial containing about 4 ounces of mercury in the garage of a relative's recently purchased house, which was previously owned by a chemist.

Experts say mercury - used in thermometers, fluorescent lights, silver dental fillings, some types of electrical switches and chemical processes - is not usually harmful to the skin in brief exposures. Mercury poisoning can result when its vapor is inhaled, but harmful effects generally would follow only a large, one-time exposure or long-term exposure to smaller amounts.