The preliminary cost of cleaning up the West Texas school where a student brought a container of mercury inside has reached nearly $900,000, an Ector County school district spokesman said Monday.
That figure could rise once all invoices are received from companies that cleaned John B. Hood Junior High School in Odessa, district spokesman Mike Adkins said. The district has a $100,000 deductible and the claim is still being processed, he said.
As many as 70 people were taken to hospitals March 18 after exposure to the toxic element. No one was injured.
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A ninth-grader told officials he found the mercury in a plastic bottle in an alley on the way to school. Adkins said the student was disciplined according to the district's code of conduct; no criminal charges were pursued.
Investigators believe the student did not know what the substance he found was, he said.
The $897,000 cleanup cost included work to test all of the school's 137,000 square feet, Adkins said.
The mercury spread beyond the two classrooms and the cafeteria where the student was showing it to others. Some of it spilled on the floor and was tracked to other areas in the school on people's shoes, Adkins said.
"They went inch by inch," he said of the crews who cleaned the school.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be absorbed through skin and mucous membranes. The poison is most dangerous when heated because vapors can be inhaled.
Twenty students handled or touched the silver liquid on tables in the cafeteria and in two classrooms, and about 49 other students and teachers could have gotten secondary exposure by being nearby, Adkins said. The group of students and teachers were quarantined and they showered before being taken to two area hospitals.
More than 500 items, including desks, cafeteria tables and textbooks, had to be thrown away during the school cleanup. The entire floor of the cafeteria was removed and awaits replacement, Adkins said.
Students attended a different school until April 3, after officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and the district determined the school had been cleared of all vapors from the mercury, agency spokeswoman Jennah Durant said in an email.