Tainted school still closed | NevadaAppeal.com

Tainted school still closed

Karl Horeis

Investigators from the Center for Disease Control and Nevada Department of Health offered urine analyses over the weekend for students involved in the mercury contamination at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.

The school will remain closed today and Tuesday for cleanup.

Parents and students filed into Scarselli Elementary School for testing on Sunday.

Richard Padovani lead his 14-year-old son Ricky into the gym.

“But I don’t have to pee,” protested the eighth-grader.

Meanwhile, cleanup crews were removing thousands of square feet of carpet from the middle school next door. The gym floor and locker room tiles may be next.

“We’ll keep cleaning until we reach 300 parts per trillion – which is about the amount given off from dental fillings,” said Douglas County School District Superintendent John Soderman on Sunday. “That’s kind of the benchmark number defined by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection.”

He said an adult male can work safely for 40 years in an environment with 500,000 parts per trillion.

“So we’re working with a very conservative standard, and that’s because we’re talking about kids’ health.”

Pau-Wa-Lu was contaminated with mercury after a student brought a small bottle of the toxic metal to school on Tuesday.

Most of the school is already at safe levels, Soderman said.

“We have a number of what we call ‘hot spots,’ which are more seriously contaminated,” he said, listing the gym and the boys’ locker room.

“We may not be able to open the gym for some time.”

Luckily, the air conditioning system in the school is isolated, meaning it doesn’t connect to all the rooms, he said.

Media were not allowed into the gym at Scarselli Elementary School on Sunday, but when Ricky Padovani came out his family described their feelings.

“The danger is being overplayed, most definitely,” said his half sister Carmen Daniels, who is visiting from Pine Grove, Calif.

She used to play with mercury at school when she was a girl, she said.

“I’ve touched it, and I’m pretty healthy,” she said.

Ricky’s father, Richard Padovani, disagreed.

“You can’t over react with something like this. Mercury is pretty dangerous.”

He praised the school district for keeping families informed.

His wife, Maritza, wishes they’d done more.

“What I don’t like is, they didn’t inform the parents right away. We didn’t find out until the kids came home from school,” she said.

She knew it was serious when they closed the school.

“I think they should tear out all the carpet – I don’t want my kids walking in there.”

“But you’re a worry wart,” said Daniels’ husband, Brett.

“You bet I am,” she answered. “When they close the school for seven days, I’m worried.”

More information will be available to parents during a public meeting tonight at Carson Valley Middle School at 7 p.m. Parents can ask questions of staff from the Nevada Division of Health, the school district and the Department of Environmental Protection.

As for the student who brought the mercury to school, who hasn’t been identified, it’s unclear what consequences he faces.

“The first thing we want to do is make sure everybody’s healthy, and then we want to get the school open,” Soderman said, noting the student has been interviewed at least twice by deputies.

“There’ll be consequences, but as far as who goes after who and for what, we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve already had people threaten litigation, but that’s just an unfortunate turn of events.”

So far, there have been no reports of illness due to mercury.

Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

If You Go

What: Public forum on the mercury contamination of Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School

Where: Carson Valley Middle School gymnasium

When: 7 p.m. tonight