- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

D.C. Public Schools officials gave community members a tour yesterday of Cardozo High School following a large-scale effort to clean up a mercury spill and remove all dangerous materials before reopening the building to students.

“The important thing is the chemicals are gone,” Thomas Brady, the school system’s chief of business operations, told about 20 people on the tour, including parents, teachers, students and city officials. The school will reopen tomorrow.

Mr. Brady led the tour into a second-floor science room and nearby storage area from which the materials were removed and said crews had replaced the floor tiles in the storage area.

He also said the cleaning-and-removal effort included the Environmental Protection Agency, and agency crews had finished their work Friday by presenting a certificate to the D.C. Board of Health.

The cleanup also included screening the school’s 1,300 student lockers.

“I feel a lot more confident than I did when I first stepped up to the building,” Council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, said after the tour. “But it’s the teachers who have to be comfortable.”

Jasmin Lopez, a Cardozo student counselor, said she felt reassured and confident that the cleanup was successful.

“It also feels good to be home again,” she said.

Mr. Brady said Superintendent Clifford B. Janey ordered a protocol to be announced tomorrow on the removal of chemicals possessing “any sort of danger” from of every D.C. public school.

Such materials were supposed to be removed before Mr. Janey was hired in 2004, following a spill in October 2003 at Ballou High School in Southeast that cost at least $1 million and closed the building for a month.

Students at Cardozo, at 1300 Clifton St. NW in Columbia Heights, have been attending school at the University of the District of Columbia campus in Van Ness since March 8. The first spill was discovered on Feb. 23, and officials closed the school. The school briefly reopened, then closed following a reported spill on March 2. A third spill was discovered March 6, but it remains unclear whether the mercury in the later spills was new or overlooked by crews cleaning the first spill.

Three juveniles face charges related to the first spill. They reportedly got the mercury from inside the school. The final costs associated with the incident have not been announced.

“I think it was a prank that went very wrong,” Council member Jim Graham, Ward One Democrat, said during the tour.

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