School Crisis: Mercury Spill! Call the Haz-Mat Team!

By September 8, 2007Briefly Legal

Page One, Friday’s Fargo (N.D.) Forum:

A mercury spill in a Fargo South High School classroom forced the school into a lockdown for more than an hour Thursday afternoon.

Oh, no! What happened?

An oral thermometer fell to the floor and broke, releasing mercury, during a medical careers class with about 16 students in it, said Superintendent Rick Buresh and Fargo Fire Capt. Gary Lorenz, who were at the scene.

Uh, what? An oral thermometor, the kind you stick under your tongue, broke, and it was treated as a hazardous chemical spill? One single, little thermometer breaks becomes an emergency that shuts down the school and leads to decontamination protocols being enacted? Panic in the streets?

Connie Byrd, 37, was among dozens of parents who arrived to pick up students from school, only to be told by a police officer that the school could be on lockdown for two to four hours and that parents should wait to be contacted by their children.

“I told (my children) if it was raining today, I’d pick them up. Holy crap,” said Byrd, whose 15-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son attend South High.

Yeah, holy crap. Not to pick on Fargo, though. This sort of school overreaction happens with some regularity.

If you want to understand the real costs of America’s hyperlitigious society and risk-exaggerating scaremongers (Alar!), figure out how much the lost hours, emergency response time, disrupted routines, etc. add up to. (Three 40-year-olds at a table last night all recalled playing with thermometer mercury back in grade school; we lived to tell the tales.) Why not sweep it up with a broom and toss it in the trash?

Too dismissive? Too dangerous for the kids? Oh, all right. Do what hospitals do. Use a mercury-spill kit as instructed by the Department of Labor. And stop wasting so much money. And tell the tort lawyers to take a hike.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Lurker of sorts says:

    Seem to me, not long ago I read a story about where a lady broke a compact florescent bulb in here living room and had to pay a bill of over 2 grand to the city for the work the HazMat team did in her house.

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