Local News

Missing Mercury From Classroom Found In Student's Back Yard

Posted October 20, 2005 12:27 p.m. EDT

— Authorities said Wednesday that a ninth-grade student who attends South Granville High School reportedly poured mercury that had gone missing at the school in his back yard after hearing about how dangerous the metal was on the news.

The Creedmoor Police Department received a call Tuesday night from a mother saying her son was upset and had disposed of the material in a hole in the family's back yard.

As crews worked Wednesday to remove the substance from the yard, investigators said they believe they had found all of the 8 to 12 ounces of missing mercury. About half of it was found Monday at another freshman student's home.

Officials believe that the two students may have recently become fascinated with the element after a science teacher performed an experiment.

South Granville High School was closed for two days while health officials conducted air quality inspections in the school's classrooms. School officials announced Wednesday night that the school was tentatively scheduled to be reopened on Monday for students and staff. Though school will be closed on Thursday, it is a scheduled teacher workday for all Granville County schools on Friday.

Officials said students and teachers would make up the missed school days.

School officials said Tuesday that none of the classrooms sampled at the time had extreme levels that would cause ill effects, but 14 classrooms had mercury vapor levels higher than the recommended level by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials said those classrooms would be cleaned thoroughly.

"I can guarantee you, we won't be out of school one-half day longer than we need to be, and we won't be back in an hour earlier than we can," said Granville County Schools Superintendent Tom Williams. "When that is though, I don't know."

Williams also defended his school system's use of mercury, even though most school districts quit using it in classrooms years ago.

"It's not prohibited and there is instructional value to it," Williams said.

He also acknowledged that the school system may reconsider that decision, but right now his main concern was getting students back to school.

Legal charges in the case are pending and the students, whose names were not released because they are juveniles, could face suspension or expulsion from the school as a result of their alleged actions.

Officials at South Granville High School are also conducting an internal investigation to determine whether school policy and procedures were properly followed because the liquid was supposed to be locked in a cabinet.