An unusual event occurred Feb. 15 at Centre High School. An employee of IServe, the district’s custodial service, reported finding a broken barometer in the science room. Mercury had spilled out onto the carpet. He made the discovery at 10:09 p.m.
Because mercury is a toxin and needs to be handled according to state-prescribed procedures, the employee called Richard Idleman, the director of operations for IServe, and reported the spill.
Idleman, who has training and experience in disaster restoration, knew what to do. He immediately called the National Reporting Center and reported the incident.
A few minutes later, NRC contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and put agent John Frey in touch with Idleman.
The agent quizzed Idleman on the protocol he intended to follow to do the cleanup. After Idleman explained the steps, the agent confirmed that IServe was “good to go.” It was not necessary to call in a hazardous materials team, which would have resulted in a large bill to the district.
Frey notified Kansas Department of Health and Environment of the incident.
Clean up began at 11:54 p.m. and was completed at 2:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The operation included opening windows, sealing off air vents, and removing the affected carpet. The underlying concrete floor was then sealed with paint.
Representatives from KDHE and the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office visited the school when the cleanup was finished to inspect the work and test the air, which was satisfactory.
Protocol required 48 hours before students were to be allowed back into the room. They did not return to the room until Monday morning, a 79-hour interim.
Superintendent Jerri Kemble was not in the district at the time the incident was discovered. She was in Houston, Texas, to receive a national award, and Doug Huxman was administering in her place during her absence.
Idleman was in contact with Kemble and Huxman throughout the cleanup time. Kemble said she spent a lot of time on the phone making sure things were going well.
“IServe did such a good job of handling it,” she said. “People trusted their expertise and were thankful for that.”
Huxman and staff members rearranged rooms so that classes usually held in the science room could be somewhere else on Thursday and Friday.
Idleman contacted the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for guidance in writing a letter explaining the incident and cleanup procedure. The students took the letter home to their parents Thursday afternoon.
Kemble and Idleman were both impressed with the quick response from government agencies.
A government website describes the mercury found in thermometers as an elemental form of the toxin: “Elemental mercury, Hg(0), causes tremors, gingivitis, and excitability when vapors are inhaled over a long period of time.”
Quick cleanup by IServe has removed any danger posed by the mercury spill.
Daniel Thompson, chief of the HAZ-MAT division in the State Fire Marshal’s office, was impressed with how IServe and the school district handled the problem.
“Those folks handled the spill extremely well,” he said. “They contacted us and followed the correct procedures. They were great to work with. They were conscientious and cared about the students. They did an exceptional job.”