CCSD: Students could have been exposed to mercury prior to Wednesday


Students could have been exposed to mercury much longer than first thought at Johnson Junior High School.

The school remains closed as the Environmental Protection Agency works to decontaminate the campus. All Friday EPA crews worked to screen and decontaminate parts of campus that may have higher than normal levels of mercury. Outside of the school, a station was set up for parents to bring clothing they wanted checked.

It was also learned that the mercury had been brought onto campus possibly days before a teacher saw students playing with the substance.

It was on Wednesday when Johnson Junior High was first put on lockdown because of a mercury contamination scare.

“They told me to lift up my hands like this. They made me turn around lift up the back of my foot to make sure I didn’t step in it,” said Nashawn Carlson, a 7th grader. 

He was one of more than 1,200 students who had to get screened and decontaminated. His mother is upset about how the school district handled the situation.

“They took his socks, they took his backpack, so I told him to take a picture of everything he had on just in case they wanted to take something from him,” Veronica Hill said.

School Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky admits there was room for improvement in how the situation was handled.

“We’ve done a good job of getting things together. Can we do things better? We can always do things better in any of these situations.”

Questions still remain about where the student playing with the substance got the mercury? And the EPA says we may never know exactly how long the substance was on campus before it was discovered.

“We can’t do any kind of finger pointing, just say it was probably prior to Wednesday,” said Randy Nattis, EPA.

That’s concerning for some parents.

“We’re going to go get checked out now,” said Jeff Lewis, a parent.

He took his son Casey to the doctor’s office after learning his son came into close contact with the substance.

“I thought it was kind of like glitter from a girls’ shirt or something,” Casey Lewis said. “I didn’t want to get my new shoes messed up so I walked on the top bleacher above it.”

Jeff Lewis is confident his son will be safe returning to school next week, but other parents aren’t so sure.

“They didn’t let me know what was going on,” said Veronica Hill, an upset parent. “No, he’s going to a different school.”

Superintendent Skorkowsky expects classes to resume Monday.

Bags of clothes and shoes inside the school may have to be moved to another location for that to happen. At last check, the EPA still has more than 1,000 bags left by students that need to be screened for mercury. Once the bags are cleared, district staff are calling parents to help return the items to students.

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