Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) teams and the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department declared the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center and Maurice J. McDonough High School clear of hazardous materials this afternoon after a group of students were exposed to a small amount of mercury.
This morning, students in the Explorers Program in a heating and air conditioning (HVAC) class at Stethem were possibly exposed to mercury that spilled on the floor of their classroom. Students in the classroom directly involved in the incident were initially returned to their zoned high schools, including McDonough. Shortly after returning to McDonough, two students reported to the school nurse that they were feeling ill and that they had possibly been exposed to mercury. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was immediately called to the school. As a precautionary measure, McDonough was put on shelter-in-place, meaning all students and staff were asked to remain in their current locations in the building, while the fire department, the Maryland Department of the Environment and HAZMAT teams from the Charles County Department of Emergency Services and the Naval District of Washington investigated and checked all students, buses and areas in the two schools that could have been contaminated.
The classroom at Stethem was secured, and the HAZMAT teams tested the areas outside the classroom, including walkways. It was confirmed that the substance was mercury and a small amount, less than 2.9 grams, had been exposed in the classroom. The HVAC room remains secure and additional cleaning will occur.
All other Charles County high schools with students who were in the Stethem classroom were isolated from other students and checked for possible exposure. No traces of mercury were found on any of the students. The HAZMAT teams checked and cleared Stethem and McDonough, as well as all buses and cars used to transport students from Stethem to their home high schools.
The shelter-in-place was lifted at McDonough around 2:45 p.m., and students were dismissed from school about a half and hour later than normal.
During the shelter-in-place, McDonough parents were notified of the incident by telephone message and e-mail alerts with up-to-date information.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,700 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 community schools that offer a technological advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX Coordinator and Section 504 Coordinator (students), or Keith Hettel, Section 504 Coordinator (employees/adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, Maryland 20646; (301) 932-6610/870-3814. For special accommodations call (301) 934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.