Hundreds of students at Francis Scott Key Middle School had to be evaluated by a hazardous materials crew Wednesday after a student showed up a with a vial of mercury.
Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, said 35 students tested positive for “low-level” mercury on their shoes and clothes. No illnesses were reported. The incident did not spur any major health concerns. Piringer said harmful exposure occurs if mercury is consumed or vaporized.
“We don’t have any indication that any of that happened,” Piringer said.
As a precaution, everyone in the school had to be tested, according to Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala. She said 900 students are enrolled at Francis Scott Key.
“That doesn’t mean everyone was exposed,” Onijala said.
According to Onijala, a student brought vial of mercury onto a school bus just prior to 8 a.m. The student passed it around to peers, spilling some of it on the bus.
The bus driver was not aware of what was going on.
Piringer said there were 25 students on the bus.
When they arrived at school, the students tracked the mercury into the building. A janitor may have inadvertently spread it around by mopping up behind them, Piringer said.
During a first period class, the student passed the vial around to other students, drawing the attention of staff members who confiscated the vial, Onijala said.
School officials then contacted authorities, Onijala said.
Meanwhile, the bus driver, unaware of the mercury, proceeded to start the next school bus route— picking up students to transport to Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School in Silver Spring.
But once the driver was notified, at least six students were diverted to White Oak Library and were eventually taken to Francis Scott Key Middle school for examination, Onijala said.
Piringer said the bus was also decontaminated and the driver was examined.
Parents were notified of the incident via phone and email, according to Onijala said.
The middle school was ordered to shelter in place and had to be thoroughly tested for contamination, school and fire and rescue officials said
Because of the screenings, parents were asked to pick up their children later than the usual 2:40 p.m. dismissal, Onijala said.