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Mercury spill contained at Abingdon school

A Hazmat team was dispatched to an Abingdon elementary school Thursday morning for a report of a chemical spill. School officials confirmed the chemical was a small amount of metallic mercury.

No classes were disrupted.

A sink was being removed in the nurse's suite at William S. James Elementary School in Abingdon and there was a "minor chemical spill," according to Harford County Public Schools Manager of Communications Teri Kranefeld.

A "very small" amount of mercury was found in water in the trap of the sink and leaked out when the sink was removed for replacement, Kranefeld said.

The room was then isolated and authorities were notified, she added.

The Hazmat team deemed it safe for students to enter the building because the amount was small and enclosed in water, Kranefeld wrote in an e-mail.

"Elemental (metallic) mercury primarily causes health effects when it is breathed as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website http://www.epa.gov/hg/effects.htm. "These exposures can occur when elemental mercury is spilled or products that contain elemental mercury break and expose mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces."

The health effects mentioned include impaired neurological development in fetuses, infants and children and more subtle nervous and muscular system, speech, hearing or vision in adults. In addition to the age of the person, health effects are dependent on the amount, type and time of exposure

A certified firm is scheduled to come in late Thursday afternoon to clean the area where the mercury was found, Kranefeld said. Until then, the nurse is operating out of the conference room, she said.

AlertNow phone calls were used to notify parents and future updates will be sent through that system directly to parents, according to Kranefeld. The nurse's suite is expected to be back in service by Monday morning.

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