- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Federal officials yesterday found six containers of mercury at Cardozo High School, which has been closed intermittently since last month while crews have worked to clean up the toxic liquid metal at the school.

D.C. public school officials last night could not explain the presence of mercury at Cardozo after city schools supposedly were cleared of all hazardous chemicals after a 2003 mercury spill at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast.

“We’re definitely concerned, and we realize that there’s a need for a school-by-school campus review,” said Roxanne Evans, a city schools spokeswoman. “The expectation was that it had all been removed. So certainly when you find out that’s not the case it’s disturbing.”

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey immediately reissued a directive that principals remove all hazardous materials from their schools. “It is evident that the identification and removal of hazardous materials was not complete after the mercury spill at Ballou,” he said.

Mr. Janey specifically ordered the removal of all mercury products, including mercury thermometers.

Cardozo Principal Reginald Ballard Jr. had said after the first mercury spill that there was no mercury in the school.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in charge of the mercury cleanup at Cardozo, said yesterday they found the containers of mercury in three of the school’s science labs. EPA officials said they also recovered nine mercury thermometers and several mercury thermostats from the school at 1300 Clifton St. NW.

The containers were found over the past two days in lockers and cabinets. School officials asked EPA crews to search the labs at Cardozo. In previous cleanup efforts, the EPA tested for mercury vapors.

Marcos Aquino, the EPA’s site coordinator, said the containers were closed and probably did not contribute to any of the contamination.

“These were laboratories where we were looking for mercury vapors and had not found them,” he said.

Mr. Aquino said other “chemicals of concern” also were found in the labs and that those substances were most likely chemicals used for science experiments.

“The EPA has made recommendations to the D.C. Department of Health to conduct a more in-depth inventory of these laboratories,” he said.

There have been three separate mercury findings at Cardozo 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.

Delante Gregory, 16, a sophomore, said he enjoyed the change of scenery but acknowledged that the constant shuttling is taking its toll on academics.

“It’s a cool first-time experience being on a college campus, but it’s beginning to get in the way” of learning, he said. “We’re only really having, like, two classes a day. It’s not like it is at Cardozo.”

Before the EPA’s announcement yesterday, Mr. Ballard said the cleanup at his school has been “much more thorough” than previous efforts. “We were told it’d be three to five more days before classes could resume at Cardozo,” he said.

Though some students have griped about the possibility of additional days being tacked onto the school year because of the incident, Delante said he didn’t mind.

“I can take going in on Saturdays. I don’t care as long as I get the hours. I’m not trying to [repeat] the 10th grade,” Delante said.

Three students have been charged in Cardozo’s initial mercury spill.

EPA officials said they also found two microdroplets of mercury in the cracks of the basement where officials found the latest spill Sunday. Mr. Aquino said the chemical was removed.

Officials could not say when Cardozo would be deemed safe to reopen. EPA officials sent 68 air samples to a lab in Harrisonburg, Pa.

“We’ll wait for the results to come back and then re-evaluate if we need to go back to specific areas,” Mr. Aquino said.

Earlier yesterday, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said at his weekly press briefing that the ongoing mercury contamination at Cardozo is “embarrassing to the city” and that his understanding is that the school was inadequately cleaned from the beginning.

The cleanup cost so far is estimated at $57,000.

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