Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Queens schoolkids sent to hospital

Broken thermometer sends kids to hospital
BY TONIA N. CIMINO, Queens Courier

Nine children from the Robert Goddard Middle School in Ozone Park were taken to the hospital after a thermometer containing mercury, a highly poisonous liquid metal, was broken on Tuesday, June 1.

According to Margie Feinberg, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson, “As soon as it was dropped they closed the room.”

Police, firefighters and a Hazmat team responded and a wing of the school was evacuated.

“Two [of the nine] students said they felt itchy,” said Feinberg. “Parents were immediately notified.”

The incident is under investigation.


Anonymous said...

Liquid Mercury really isn't THAT toxic. The vapors are what's really dangerous but a few drops spilled at room temperature in a classroom is really nothing to get concerned about. Sounds more like overly paranoid parents than anything else. Hell back in the 50-60's school kids used to handle liquid mercury in science classes...

ew-3 said...

you're quite right.

When I was in JHS we actually had mercury in the lab and the teacher poured some into a petri dish to show us what a liquid metal was.

Further the thermostat in my house was a mercury trip switch.

And the original "silent" light switches actually had tubes of mercury in them.

The EPA and the Enviro-nuts scare everyone to gain power. How can the EPA declare CO2 a dangerous gas? We breath out CO2. It's all about government control.

Klink Cannoli said...

Erm, I dunno. Mercury evaporates at around room temperature (68ºF) at a certain rate. If it was indeed mercury in that thermometer, it would be prudent to take precautions and evacuate the kids from the classroom. As you've mentioned, it's more dangerous to inhale the stuff than to swallow it.

Chances are it wasn't mercury, but the alloy galinstan. Err on the side of caution, I say.

Anony2 said...

In science class they used to pass around petri dishes with mercury and we were told to use pencils (the same ones we later chewed on) to break up the mercury and play with it. This was the late 80s. Is mercury that much more dangerous 20 years later? I doubt it...

ew-3 said...

Klink, what exactly is the evaporation rate of Hg at room temperature?

Hg boils at 674 degrees F.
My guess is the evaporation is minimal.

The only danger with Hg is actual contact.

This other stuff is all eco-nuts scare tactics.

Klink Cannoli said...

Why is it so hard to find a reputable source of information for mercury on the net? How frustrating.

Anyway, this experiment from the Bowling Green State University on mercury vapor might be interesting...,1607,7-132-2945_5105_47868-181553--,00.html

Klink Cannoli said...

I'm finding different evaporation rates from different sources. Some say days, some months and one source notes a half life of 445 years for elemental mercury. WTF?! I have to go to a library?

But rest assured, mercury vapor is highly toxic when inhaled. It hits your alveoli, passes easily to your red blood cells, then to your brain effecting the nervous system.

If you swallow it, the small and large intestines doesn't readily absorb it. A very small amount. You crap most of it out. It's even less absorbed through skin contact.

Kids are more susceptible to the stuff (like almost everything else) and why you really shouldn't take chances when the little ones are involved.


Ahh, okay I found something a bit more solid from the US Dept of Labor...

* OSHA PEL The current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) for mercury vapor is 0.1 milligram per cubic meter (mg/m(3)) of air as a ceiling limit. A worker's exposure to mercury vapor shall at no time exceed this ceiling level.


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established a recommended exposure limit (REL) for mercury vapor of 0.05 mg/m(3) as a TWA for up to a 10-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek. NIOSH also assigns a "Skin" notation, which indicates that the cutaneous route of exposure, including mucous membranes and eyes, contributes to overall exposure [NIOSH 1992].

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has assigned mercury vapor a threshold limit value (TLV) of 0.025 mg/m(3) as a TWA for a normal 8-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek and considers mercury vapor an A4 substance (not classifiable as a human carcinogen). The ACGIH also assigns a "Skin" notation to mercury vapor [ACGIH 1994, p. 25].
* Rationale for Limits

The NIOSH limit is based on the risk of central nervous system damage, eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation [NIOSH 1992].
The ACGIH has not published documentation for the current TLV for mercury vapor. The 1991 Documentation of Threshold Limit Values (6th edition) discusses the basis for the prior TLV of 0.05 mg/m(3), but does not discuss the current TLV for mercury vapor [ACGIH 1991, p. 881].

Anonymous said...

NO SHIT it was antifreeze !

LibertyBoyNYC said...

I used to play with this stuff on the dining room linoleum.

David said...

Mercury gives off toxic vapors even at room temperature and prolonged exposure should be avoided. However, short term exposure is not going to cause ill effects and the "kids sent to hospital" were suffering from hysteria. Many places have taken steps to eliminate mercury including the use of red alcohol thermometers to replace those with mercury.

Anonymous said...

Yeah - It's paranoia. Geez, we used to play with liquid mercury. Yes, it will cause neuro problems with long term exposure, and don't get near methylated mercury (HIGHLY toxic) - but gad, there is a famous National Geo cover of a miner sitting on top of a vat of Mercury

Klink Cannoli said...

Remember, we're talking about children here. It takes smaller doses to make them ill compared to an adult.

Hey, I'm one of the first ones to pounce on the ecocrats, but sometimes you need to admit we (scientific establishment) don't have all the answers.

There are still unknowns in this story and we'll have to wait to see if it was even mercury in the thermometer.

For the little time I spent researching mercury evaporation rates, I haven't found a sound source for the information. 1) That's a big unknown at this point. You can't make an assessment to the potential danger if you don't have this data. 2) There's also some minor contention between several scientific bodies as to how much mercury vapor exposure (in adults) is acceptable before short term effects are realized. And short term effects are real and ugly. Look it up yourself. 3) Long term effects studies are a little fuzzy. When they start talking about mental disorders, alzheimer and cancer (diseases we know very little about and don't know what causes them), be wary of junk science and statistics manipulation.

I'll agree to some of the kids claiming itchiness as a symptom to poisoning were probably suffering from psychosomatic effects by hysterical people. Police, fire, hazmat, worried parents educators... must have been quite a scene.