A mercury spill was reported at Harford Technical High School near Bel Air Thursday afternoon, but the substance involved later turned out to be a non-hazardous liquid used in some contemporary thermometers.
The Harford County Hazardous Materials Team went to the school shortly before 4 p.m. to assess the situation, according to Robert Thomas, spokesman for the county Department of Emergency Services.
Both Thomas and a Harford County Public Schools spokesperson said the initial report was the spill involved liquid mercury, an extremely toxic substance.
The Harford County Public Schools spokesperson from the communications department said the mercury spill occurred in a science lab. The spokesperson said the HCPS facilities crew also responded to the incident, in accordance with the school system's protocols.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Thomas said the six hazmat technicians at the scene were still conducting their investigation. There were no injuries and no medical attention required, he said.
The spill occurred in a health services classroom on the second floor, according to Thomas, who said no students were present and that two teachers had reported some of the substance spilled on their shoes.
After additional investigations, the Hazmat technicians determined the substance that spilled was not liquid mercury, Thomas said around 7:30 p.m.
"There was a broken thermometer involved, and there was a false reading" that the substance was mercury, he explained.
Thomas said he did not know exactly what was spilled. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "organic liquids" are commonly used as replacements for mercury in liquid thermometers.
The high school building was released back to the control of the system, Thomas said.
Earlier, Thomas had noted that, over the years, "almost all mercury has been removed from the schools around the state."
When the highly toxic element is spilled, Thomas added, it spreads quickly and is extremely difficult to remove from cracks and crevices in flooring, tabletops and other surfaces.