Hazmat Crew Dispatched to School Because…

Oh readers, I bet you of all people can guess WHY a hazmat crew was dispatched to  Seminole High School in Florida yesterday. According to this WTSP report, it was to save kids from a dangerous chemical a student brought into the building: MERCURY! In a THERMOMETER!

The kid brought it in as his homework, to illustrate a substance from the periodic table. But once it was discovered, says WTSP:

…the school went into lockdown.

Deputies say the thermometer was discovered as the substances were checked before going through the school.

No one was put in harm’s way, but a hazmat crew was there as a precaution.

A precaution against what? Everyone at school might get sickened by stupidity? If so, they were too late. – L.

Can you get mercury poisoning from just looking at this photo? Better not look, just as a precaution.

71 Responses to Hazmat Crew Dispatched to School Because…

  1. Leslie December 5, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    My first thought was that he’d brought the mercury contents of a broken themometer, but when I clicked the link, I learned that the thermometer was intact.

    I seem to remember having little clear boxes of mercury that we passed around in grade school. We’d each take a turn rolling it around in the box.

  2. Hels December 5, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Don’t they have anybody in that school who passed Chemistry 101 and could tell them than even if you drink the frigging contents of the thermometer they will just pass straight through you? That only vaporized mercury (good luck achieving that kind of temperature at a regular school!) and organic mercury (which does not look anything like metal mercury!) are dangerous to one’s health?

  3. melissa December 5, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    When I was in fourth grade a boy brought in the mercury contents of a thermometer in a plastic margarine tub with a lid and we played with it. I know now that it wasn’t really a safe thing to do, but it was brilliant fun! The teacher didn’t know about it, I’m sure, but if I had I think the most that would have happened is that it would have been taken away and we would have been warned about the hazards.

  4. Rahti Gorfien December 5, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    I find this difficult to believe.

  5. Stacie December 5, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Does the school use compact fluorescent light bulbs? If so, there’s plenty of mercury in the school already.

  6. vjhreeves December 5, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    oh dear Lord, it’s in my hometown.

  7. Bethany December 5, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Oh, wow, this insane. As a child, I BIT THROUGH a thermometer. Had. It in my mouth as a doctor pressed on an infected wound on my leg. Hurt SOOO much I clamped my jaw and shattered the thermometer in my mouth. Nurses we wiping mercury an glass from my face and mouth. That was in 1977. Can you imagine what would have happened today??

  8. vjhreeves December 5, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Instead of punishing the student, they should punish the principal for wasting taxpayers’ money.

  9. CrazyCatLady December 5, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    What a waste of money. I have several toys with mercury – mazes,. that we let the kids carefully play with.

    I wish I could get a real mercury thermometer though. The digital ones are not as accurate.

  10. Marion December 5, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    This is one of the absolutely most moronic things I’ve read to date. Talk about over-reaction!

  11. pentamom December 5, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    By this logic, every store that sells light bulbs should be immediately padlocked and Superfunded!

  12. Jiltaroo December 5, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Idiotic! One of my sons drew a picture of a zombie at school once and they wanted him to see a psychologist. It has all been taken way too far.

  13. mollie December 5, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Soon, things will be happening that are so overt and awful that this kind of hysteria will seem like even more of an obscene caricature indeed.

    My guess is what the students use to shampoo their hair each morning has more harmful chemicals in it than any thermometer, especially one that is sealed.


  14. Dave December 5, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Just stupid!

  15. AlanaM December 5, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I remember poking mercury with my bare finger in 4th grade science class. The only element that is a liquid at room temperature, right?

  16. Lee Baldwin December 5, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    i’m 58. i grew up playing with mercury, in my bare hands. i have an IQ of 160. i don’t believe i was harmed by my experiences (i also had a chemistry set that allowed one to make gunpowder & other really fun stuff, unlike the baking soda & vinegar that my son is stuck with). i despair for this country. fear will kill us all.

  17. Captain America December 5, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I’m with Lee on this. Life’s full of dangerous stuff that, in the right circumstances, are actually GOOD for us.

    This is a kind of intellectual know-nothingism or political correctness thought policing run amok.

    There is also a kind of irrational, anti-intellectualism going on with all of this bizarre, follow the stupid rule at all cost, mentality.

  18. Bill Anderson December 5, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I’m speechless on this one. We truly are a Nation of Bureaucrats.

  19. MR December 5, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    I am 36 and I remember playing with mercury from broken thermometers in elementary school, and my dad said that was part of science class when he was young. By the time I was in high school I remember the (huge) school being evacuated and firefighters in hazmat gear temping through because a thermometer was broken in a single science lab. It was nice to get out of school early!

  20. steve December 5, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Every member of Seminole High School’s administration at 8401 131st street N Boca Ciega, FL 33776 , Florida, should hide their heads in shame.

    There is no excuse for this kind of over-reaction….except…

    this is unfortunately common in public schools these days. Too many public school administrators don’t think, they just over-react.

    Back when I went to high school, if a student had called in something like this, it would have been like setting off the fire alarm as a prank! And he would have been disciplined severely.

    This is one more example of how troubled our society is. Public school administrators should be gathering to take prompt action to stop such idiocy, but nothing will happen because the administrative inmates are running the asylum.

  21. Matt C December 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Did the hazmat team also remove all the fluorescent bulbs from the school?

  22. Emily Guy Birken December 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    This kind of reminds me of those old Maytag repairmen ads. Maybe the Hazmat crew is so damn bored from everything being so safe, they want to answer completely ridiculous calls.

  23. David December 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I work as a lab technician at a UK school and we still use mercury thermometers for some purposes. If one gets broken we absorb the mercury with sulphur and quicklime then bag it up and store it for disposal at a later date. We certainly don’t overreact like this. Has the US gone completely insane?

  24. Donna December 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Holy overreaction, Batman

  25. lisa December 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    just wanted to repeat this:

    “Don’t they have anybody in that school who passed Chemistry 101 and could tell them than even if you drink the frigging contents of the thermometer they will just pass straight through you? That only vaporized mercury (good luck achieving that kind of temperature at a regular school!) and organic mercury (which does not look anything like metal mercury!) are dangerous to one’s health?”

    We learned this in 7th grade.

  26. Mike December 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    The Stupid is strong on this one.

    Wonder how they would react if they knew there was dihydrogen monoxide in the school?

  27. Jen Connelly December 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Holy overreaction, Batman.

    Oh noes! It’s a thermometer, run for your lives!

    If I was a taxpayer in that county I’d be pissed beyond belief. Hazmat? Really?

    Even if it had broken I would think the chem lab and teacher would know how to handle the situation. Or do they not have real chemistry in high school any more?

    How did we ever survive before digital thermometers? I was one of those kids that but off the end of a thermometer, too. I remember my dad kind of freaked out but since I didn’t get any in my mouth he relaxed. I have no idea how he cleaned it up (probably threw it in the trash… oops). We all survived. My dad still has mercury thermometers.

    Oh, and like others said, um… light bulbs. The kind we’re all supposed to switch to so they can get rid of incandescent bulbs. Full of mercury. I can only imagine what they’d do if a fluorescent bulb broke in the school. It’d be the end of the world.

    If I was the on the hazmat crew I think I would have been livid for the school wasting my time.

  28. Hels December 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    David, at least when I was in the university 10 years ago we still used mercury thermometers in the labs, and I assume they still use them… when I broke a thermometer once, all my professor did was hand me the special vacuum. I spent the next 15 minutes on my knees making sure I have covered every square inch of the floor and not a drop was hiding under a chair or something, and that was it. Maybe it’s because some morons believe that one’s 18th birthday is some kind of a magic day that separates completely helpless and all too vulnerable from invincible and oh so smart?

  29. JP December 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    Obviously no adult in the school had taken chemistry 101, or could remember. Fine specimens of academia, what?
    Perhaps the problem here is that adults (especially those in some position of authority) can no longer be shamed into submission on the basis of their stupidity.
    Status used to be intelligence. Now it’s stuff, and what’s worse, faux moral intolerance.
    There’s a good reason why we used to put people in charge who actually knew what they were doing.
    Good intentions never were much of a substitute for good brains. Common sense is now too common? And we’re all bred for brilliance, um?

  30. opsomath December 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Chemist here. We have largely phased these out in teaching labs now, but no one freaks out if we find one. We swap ’em out for an ethanol thermometer and everything is fine. We use them in the research lab all the time.

    This is epically stupid. Even if it had broken, it could have been easily dealt with using a spill kit which I guarantee you is required to be in the lab. Whoever called this in should lose whatever position enables them to do that.

  31. Vanessa December 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Seriously?! In the 18th and 19th centuries, people actually took medications with mercury in them (obviously not great for their health, but not fatal either), not to mention the legions of kids in my parents’ generation who had their cuts and scrapes covered in Mercurochrome. I’m cautious to the point of being paranoid when it comes to poisoning, and even I know that mercury sealed in a thermometer can’t hurt anyone. Going into lockdown is just ridiculous.

  32. Yan Seiner December 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    I wonder if any of the administrators who called this in have amalgam fillings. After all they’re half mercury…. Maybe the HAZMAT team should haul off a few heads, while they’re at it.


  33. Edsel December 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Geez. Imagine what they would’ve done to me and my friends in elementary school in the 1970’s. A friend brought a baggie full of mercury from a broken thermometer and we dumped it into our hands to play with it out at recess on the playground. Probably went straight to lunch afterwards. Not that I’m recommending this particular course of action (I was about 8 at the time,) but seriously lockdown and hazmat crew for an unbroken thermometer?

  34. Meg December 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Yes, David. The US has gone completely insane. I sometimes wish we could emigrate, but I’m sure the rest of the world doesn’t want our riffraff! HAHA! On a serious note, however, yes. We really have gone off the deep end, but I do hope that the pendulum will swing again back toward reason and perspective. Probably, as someone else here suggested, once the REAL crises of the world come home to roost in ways we can no longer ignore, overreacting to everything will be a fad of the past. It’s useful to remember that McCarthyism and the psychology of hysteria underlying it, happened in living, recent memory. We’re never out of the woods when it comes to hysteria.

  35. Hels December 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Some articles make it seems like the hazmat team was called as a precaution once the word of the assignment got out ot make sure that students did not bring anything dangerous before it was scattered all over the building. *facepalm* I am not sure which version is scarier…

  36. Chihiro December 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Geeze, I thought my school had it bad when we had to evacuate the school because of a broken thermometer. This is somehow MORE ridiculous.

  37. Maegan December 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Posted by mollie:
    “Soon, things will be happening that are so overt and awful that this kind of hysteria will seem like even more of an obscene caricature indeed.”

    and Meg:
    “Probably, as someone else here suggested, once the REAL crises of the world come home to roost in ways we can no longer ignore, overreacting to everything will be a fad of the past.”

    At first I thought these comments were sarcastic. Really? There are horrible things coming? Am I missing something?

  38. Nerd-faced Girl December 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    My 8th grade science teacher as part of a lesson on density floated stuff in mercury. He also had sulfuric acid in the classroom and a bunch of other nasty chemicals. He would also turn the gas all the way up and light it, creating a three-foot jet of flame into the middle of our classroom, which he would snuff with his thumb. And we were 13, not 16!

  39. dancing on thin ice December 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    I remember my dad melting lead, mercury in science and asbestos for working with torches in the art room.

    All this concern about a sealed thermometer but not so much about what is served in the cafeteria. At least they no longer have to worry about what hazardous substances are in Twinkies.

  40. Connie December 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    A few years ago I was watching the noon news when they announced a school in a neighboring city had been shut down. Parents were warned not to go to the school until the problem was resolved. Someone brought in a thermometer and it broke! A mercury spill!! Run, run, run – oh, wait a minute you can’t even run – the school is locked down.
    When my sister was a little girl (late 50’s) she broke the end of the thermometer and swallowed the mercury. Our old-fashioned family doctor said it wasn’t enough to worry about. Can’t even imagine what would happen if that happened today.

  41. Warren December 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    People, People, the HAZMAT TEAM actually responded. Where the hell were they trained?

    If an unknowing principal called for HAZMAT, they should have told him not to worry, and go check you chem textbooks as a refresher.
    They should not have played into the fears by responding.

    If I call in a false fire alarm, and get caught, it costs aprox $1000.00 per truck and $200.00 per man in fines. The principal should be held accountable.

  42. Donald December 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Am I missing something here? Why are we wasting money on a HAZMAT team on standby for something so harmless in comparison?

    I thought that the global financial meltdown was serious. Depression and anxiety is skyrocketing. Don’t the bureaucrats think this is serious? Do they have money to burn?

  43. Violet December 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    If I had the time or energy, I would be doing public records demands for the names of those who called, and their personnel files as well as the report by the HAZMAT team and the personnel file of the HAZMAT idiot who responded. I would also demand a record of the costs involved.

  44. Yan Seiner December 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    @Warrern: The HAZMAT team has no choice. They have to respond. The same way as when some idiot in the mountains triggers his EPIRB because the water tastes funny, or when someone calls us (a water utility) because their toilet is leaking. (Yes, at 2AM on a weekend, at double overtime, just to tell them to call a plumber.)

    We have no choice, we have to respond.

    Unfortunately, most government agencies don’t have a “stupid fee” to charge idiots.

    The fault lies with the school, not the responders.

  45. Amy December 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Well i have been known to feel cold just looking at a thermometer with a subzero temp. Im starting to feel symptoms from seeing your mercury-containing photo…
    PS I can guarantee they are packing many dangerous (maybe worse?) chemicals in their lunch boxes. Which they will ingest. On purpose.

  46. Charla December 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    We have mercury outgassing from the soon-to-be-mandated MERCURY compact fluorescent light bulbs that the ubber-stupid are mandating for our homes and have been used in classrooms for decades.

  47. Jessica December 5, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    It wasn’t liquid mercury. It was the T-1000 from the future contained in an ordinary thermometer as a disguise. Once again the present is safe.

  48. Charla December 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Want to contact Principal Weller of Seminole High School and give him alternative ways to handle this situation? Please at least be polite. http://www.seminole-hs.pinellas.k12.fl.us/index.php/faculty/12-contacts/160-weller

  49. Yan Seiner December 5, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

    @Charla: CFLs are not mandated. What’s being phased out are ordinary incandescent light bulbs, which are only about 5% efficient, wasting 95% of the energy you put into them.

    The amount of mercury in CFLs is miniscule. The millions of large fluorsescent bulbs in the World Trade Center collapse released about 35 lbs of mercury. A single CFL bulb is harmless.

  50. bmj2k December 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    Wow, I bet the local CVS Pharmacy is still on lockdown

  51. Beth December 6, 2012 at 5:13 am #

    I dispatch fire departments and hazmat units, and if we had received a call like this at our comm center, our protocol would be to send an engine to check things out. The engine lieutenant would be the one to make the decision to call out the Hazmat team after an assessment of the hazards.

    Don’t get me started on the use of “lockdown” in the school environment.

  52. Warren December 6, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    I understand that if someone calls in with a spill, or unknown subtance, that yes HAZMAT has to respond. I have no problem with that.

    But when a teacher or principal calls in with a report of a mercury filled thermometer, that is intact, that being the key word “intact”, then the HAZMAT team should never have been dispatched.

    I have worked with emergency services over the years, in one form or another, including being a member. This response should never have happened for a few reasons.

    1. The health and safety of the responding team. Every time emergency services responds, there is a certain risk to their safety.
    2. The health and safety of the public. With one team tied up a scene for stupidity, resources are now deployed, and not ready to respond to a real threat.
    3. The financial cost to the taxpayer of having that team respond, and remain on scene.

    All of this could have been avoided with the dispatcher or team leader, telling the caller one simple thing.

    “Sir/Ma’am, this is not an emergency. If you are that concerned, confiscate the item, and take it to be disposed of properly.”.

    A three second sentence that should have been said, but instead thousands of dollars wasted, emergency services abused, and educators look like fools.

    Job well done all around.

  53. Puzzled December 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Since when is Hazmat ever a first response, for anything? I’ve never heard of a Hazmat team that gets dispatched without another service calling. I’ve been a paramedic for 10 years, and I was in Hazmat for a time.

    That said – according to our insane culture, a thermometer will kill you, but putting mercury in your mouth or injecting it is perfectly safe. I suspect the latter is true but not the former, but the dichotomy is interesting.

    Also interesting is that our fearful culture which runs like mad from the fear of the week has no concerns about massive debt.

  54. AW13 December 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    When we moved into our house, there were a number of those long flourescent bulbs in the basement. We moved them out of the way of our boxes and forgot about them. About a month ago, I realized that one had fallen on the cement floor and broken. Who knows how long it had been like that. So I checked out the EPA website, and cleaned it up according to their specifications as best I could. I went back to that website to double check something, and found an FAQ that read something like “I already cleaned up the light before I read the disposal standards and I didn’t follow the proceedure. Do I have anything to worry about?” The answer read something like “No.” Maybe they should have done a quick internet check about cleanup protocol instead?

  55. AnotherAnon December 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    We live in the house my husband grew up in, and we have a mercury thermometer that was in the house when we move in. I use it.

  56. Jim Collins December 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    I wonder what that school would do with a Dihydrogen Monoxide spill?


  57. Stacey December 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    presumably in case all the kids turned into mindless zombies and tried to eat the thermometer. something 99.9% of kids would never do normally but might start doing if society keeps treating them like they’re stupid. protect them from everything and expect them to magically know how to protect themselves when they’re 18.

  58. linvo December 6, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I don’t even know what to say to this.

    But I’ll try (coz I’m bored lol).

    Lockdown? Wouldn’t evacuation have been more appropriate if they feared chemical contamination? Or is there something I don’t know about like “mercury attracts zombies in a 5 mile radius”?

    I remember our physics teacher pouring some mercury on the floor to demonstrate its qualities. Obviously left an impression because that was some 30 years ago. And I found the old mercury thermometers way more accurate and reliable than the digital ones when my girl was a baby.

  59. Warren December 6, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    @ Puzzled

    In our area, HAZMAT is the Fire Dept., just it’s own truck and a team of firefighters with specific training. They will be the first and only responders is specific situations.

  60. Jamie December 7, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    When I was a young child, I stuck a thermometer into a freshly-cooked pizza, mimicking a commercial I saw where someone sticks a thermometer into a pizza to show how hot it is. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the thermometer broke or melted somehow and mercury spilled all over the pizza. My mother cleaned the mercury off and we both ate the pizza with no ill effects.

    I can’t imagine the level of horror the people at this school would have felt over that incident.

  61. BL December 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    What if the planet Mercury fell from the sky and poisoned us all?

  62. Rebecca Menes December 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Of course there is mercury inside every single fluorescent tube in the school.

  63. Ann December 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Wow. speechless… just speechless.

  64. Dan December 9, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    We’re a stupid people. We so dumb we think that building and using weapons is the way to end war; that’s what the military industrialists want us to think/do.

  65. Dan December 9, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Actually, I thought the Hazmat team was called because marijuana smoke was discovered in a bathroom.

  66. Gerg December 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    Mercury is the only metal normally liquid at room temperature. There are other elements. Or I should say “element”, namely Bromine. Commonly found in neigbourhood pools….

    Gallium melts at about 30C which is cool enough to melt it with your body heat. It also easily super-cools and can be kept as a liquid at room temperature.

    Cesium also melts around 30C but it poses other, uh, practical problems for high school chemistry labs.

    I don’t think I would recommend testing the theory that you can eat liquid mercury without ill health effects. But I do remember playing with the droplets from a broken thermometer and pushing them around with my finger.

  67. Susan December 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Good grief! Granted I am 54 years old but when I was in Junior High ( in the early 1970’s). our science teacher let us PLAY with mercury on “germy”, old wooden desks…and WITHOUT any gloves! I am still here as are my classmates from so many years ago. I wouldn’t play with mercury today but back then people weren’t so freaky about this. We even had playgrounds with hard cement bases……and our Mom’s didn’t go to school and whine if we had scabby knees! Was it because Mom didn’t care !?!

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