Officials confirmed Wednesday that a suspected hazardous material found Wednesday morning at Bradwell Institute was mercury, according to Hinesville Fire Chief T. Lamar Cook.
Bradwell staff discovered a silvery substance in a staff parking area Wednesday morning after school began. Those who discovered the substance estimated it to be about the size of two teaspoons.
Speaking from the Liberty County Planning Workshop on St. Simons Island, LCSS Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said administrators believe the mercury originated in two classrooms in the school’s old science wing, which currently is closed as construction workers prepare to make renovations to the science, business and agricultural- science wings.
It is possible that the mercury came out from its secure location, attached to a drain, when workers were removing items from the classrooms, according to an email sent to Scherer from Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley. It then would have drained into the parking lot, where it was discovered.
After the substance was found in the parking lot, Principal Scott Carrier said faculty members immediately roped off the area and called the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency. The school was put in a modified lockdown at about 11:30 a.m., which allowed movement within the building as warranted, according to Conley. Students went to all but one class and everyone had lunch within the appropriate timeframe.
School-system officials kept parents informed with two automated phone calls Wednesday and two emails containing updated information, the deputy superintendent said.
The building was cleared by officials at approximately 3:10 p.m., but students were not released until letters to their parents were finalized and provided to each student before dismissal.
“In order for the most accurate information to be sent home to parents, the letters were not written until after our 3 p.m. briefing with emergency personnel. There was an approximate delay of about 30 minutes. All after-school activities were canceled for the day. All students were free to leave the building by about 3:45 p.m.,” Conley said.
Georgia Environment Protection Department conducted an air-quality test of the school and found no traces of mercury, and the federal Environment Protection Agency conducted an eight-hour air-quality test Wednesday night to verify the school was safe for students to return Thursday, Cook said.
“They monitored everything, but it’s only in those two classrooms in that wing, which was already shut down,” Scherer said.
Administrators worked overnight to monitor the situation and await feedback from the EPD, and Conley reported that the school received clearance to open around 5 a.m. Thursday.
Conley also said she and EPD staff would devise a plan for removal of the remaining mercury prior to demolition of the wing.