- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

D.C. school officials next week expect to begin their top-to-bottom search for mercury in city schools, as federal investigators yesterday scoured Cardozo High School for the toxic chemical.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said workers found mercury-contaminated clothing and shoes in three lockers at the school at 1300 Clifton St. NW.

Marcus Aquino, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator, said authorities directed his agency through school officials to the lockers, but he would not say whether the lockers belonged to the three students charged in the school’s initial spill that occurred Feb. 23.

Meanwhile, school officials said Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is focused on carrying out his directive that all mercury and other hazardous materials be removed from all city schools. Officials said Mr. Janey does not want any more mercury spills disrupting instruction time.

“Dr. Janey is committed to seeing that the directive is carried out so that no additional instructional time will be lost for incidences [such as those] at Cardozo and Hardy Middle School,” said Roxanne Evans, a city schools spokeswoman.

Hardy Middle School in Northwest shut down for one day this week after a thermometer that contained mercury broke in a science room.

“But, at the same time, [Mr. Janey] is equally concerned about the safety and well-being of our students. He has two goals: making sure all schools are safe and avoiding any repeat incidences,” Ms. Evans said.

Mercury was banned from schools after a 2003 spill at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast led officials to shut down the school for a month.

Mr. Janey, who was appointed D.C. schools superintendent last year, reissued the directive on Wednesday after EPA crews found six containers of mercury and other “chemicals of concern” in three science labs at Cardozo. Crews also recovered nine mercury thermometers and three mercury thermostats at the school.

“[Mr. Janey’s] concern is that his directive be very clear and unambiguous,” Ms. Evans said. “He is investigating the [earlier] directive and trying to find out about the follow-up.”

The students charged in the Feb. 23 spill reportedly have told police they obtained the mercury from the school’s science lab. School officials at first denied those reports, saying all mercury had been removed from all schools after the Ballou spill.

Mercury has been found at Cardozo three times in the past two weeks — Feb. 23, March 2 and Sunday. Cardozo students are being bused to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) for classes while EPA crews clear the school.

During the press briefing yesterday, Mr. Aquino said the EPA is waiting for results from the 68 air samples taken earlier this week at Cardozo and will review the results with the D.C. Department of Health.

“From the air samples, we will be able to see if any areas need to be retested,” Mr. Aquino said.

Mr. Aquino said EPA is making good progress in the cleanup but didn’t know when Cardozo will reopen to students, faculty and staff.

“I don’t know if we will be done by the weekend,” he said. “I think we are making really good progress and we are getting help from the Metropolitan Police Department and the fire department. So, we will stay as long as it takes.”

Mr. Aquino also could not say how much the cleanup at Cardozo would cost.

Mercury spills have plagued other institutions.

Earlier yesterday, the D.C. fire department responded to a mercury spill at Howard University’s power plant on Sixth Street NW.

Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, said an undetermined amount of mercury apparently was spilled on Tuesday. A supervisor was notified, but the spill went untouched until yesterday, when that supervisor tried to clean it with paper towels.

But when that supervisor told his boss, Mr. Etter said, the supervisor’s boss called the fire department. They tested the supervisor, and mercury was found on his hands and on his shoes. Three other employees had mercury on their shoes.

No one was hospitalized as a result of the mercury, Mr. Etter said.

Mr. Etter said the source of the mercury spill was under investigation. He said one suspected source is a boiler gauge.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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