Mercury spill in automotive department causes hasty evacuation

Students in the American River College automotive department were evacuated from the building’s lobby and classrooms Tuesday night around 8:20 p.m. due to a mercury spill.

According to students who evacuated the building, “two or three classes worth of students had skin contact” with the mercury after a thermometer-like instrument was compromised over a counter.

“We were just leaning on the counter waiting for our tools and then we got told that there was mercury on the counters and on the floor,” said automotive  technology student Blake Campos.

Campos said his skin felt “slightly itchy” afterwards, but said they “didn’t come in contact with too much of it … I  was told that mercury is one of the most (deadly) substances on the planet.”

The male student responsible for the spill was not identified, but others in attendance  said he may have been playing with it or using it inappropriately in a part of the building known to students as the “bay” area.

“I guess he broke the thermometer and then he said he brought it into the tool room and it was broken already,” said Raul Vasquez, who was present when students were first informed of the spill.

“They told us ‘okay, don’t touch the counter top and I was already resting my hands (on it),” Vasquez said.

Two Sacramento Fire Department fire engines occupied the parking space near the building for over 30 minutes while the area was secured and cleaned.

The classes in the affected classrooms were dismissed after the incident.

Los Rios District Police officers at the scene declined to comment on the situation, but did say the department would have more information available the following morning.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mercury “primarily causes health effects when it is breathed as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs.”

Poisoning typically happens when “elemental mercury is spilled or products that contain elemental mercury break and expose mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.”

Primary symptoms of mercury poisoning include emotional changes and insomnia.

The Current will update the story as new information becomes available.

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