- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

Federal officials said yesterday they want to be reimbursed for cleaning Cardozo High School after two mercury spills, which could mean suing the families of the students responsible.

“We don’t do this for free,” said Nicholas Brescia, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coordinator.

He qualified those responsible as “anyone who has had a stake in the spill.”

Mr. Brescia said the cost of the cleanup has not been determined, but the agency has made $300,000 available under its Superfund program. However, the fund money is only a stopgap measure for immediate responses to emergencies.

The school, at 13th and Clifton streets, is expected to reopen Monday.

The agency determines who is liable, then seeks to recover the costs from them.

Agency spokeswoman Megan Dougherty acknowledged situations in which people are not pursued because they don’t have the money.

Chief Charles H. Ramsey of the Metropolitan Police Department yesterday told WTOP Radio that he doubted parents could afford to pay the entire tab, but that a fine would be appropriate.

“There needs to be some consequences because a message has to be sent,” he said. “Not only are [people] exposing others to a very dangerous substance, but the money it costs to clean up is just absolutely incredible. We cannot continue to do this. At some point enough is enough.”

Chief Ramsey also said students involved should be put on probation or expelled, but that their lives should not be ruined over one incident.

Every EPA response under the Superfund act is automatically budgeted for $150,000.

In November 2003, a 16-year-old boy spread mercury throughout Ballou High School in Southeast.

Tracy Hughes, spokeswoman for the District’s Office of the Attorney General, said yesterday the student was charged with placing mercury in the school, but the charges were dropped as part of deal in which he pleaded guilty to prior, unrelated charges.

She said the student is on probation and remains under court supervision.

The incident closed the school for a month, and the District had to spend about $1 million to clean nearby homes because students tracked the mercury into the community.

The EPA paid $253,000 out of the Superfund for the cleanup, and officials are still determining who should reimburse the agency.

The cleanup at Cardozo was expected to end tonight. Together with the Feb. 23 spill at the school, EPA crews have conducted nine days of cleanup, an agency spokesman said.

The District’s Office of Facilities Management is expected to give the school a deep cleaning when the EPA work is finished.

Mr. Brescia said he was “100 percent” certain that the mercury found Wednesday in a third-floor stairwell landing was separate from that discovered last week.

“When we left the building on Sunday, the building was clear,” he said. “We consider this a new spill. And this is a new cleanup action.”

Cardozo students have missed four full days of school because of the mercury incidents. D.C. school officials have not made final plans for the students to make up the missed time.

D.C. police officials said they had leads on who put the second batch of mercury in the 800-student school and were pursuing them with the EPA’s Criminal Investigations Unit.

“We’ll do some of the same procedures as we did last week,” said Capt. Michael Reese of the Metropolitan Police Department. “We’re still in the process of gathering facts.”

The mercury found Wednesday was described at five to seven pea-sized pellets.

Capt. Reese said police were reviewing digital-video footage from cameras in the school. Investigators used video footage in the arrest of the two students, both boys, in last week’s incident.

The students, 15 and 16, face charges of dumping a hazardous material, cruelty to children and handling stolen property.

Neither has been identified by police because of their age. Both were released to their mothers. They could be sent to juvenile jail until they are 21 or placed on probation.

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