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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2005

Mercury scare quarantines 240 in Michigan town

LICHFIELD, Mich. - Some 240 elementary and high-school students were quarantined and two third-graders were treated at a local hospital yesterday after a small amount of mercury evaporated when a third-grade student opened a small plastic bottle of the chemical on a school bus on the way to school, school officials said.

A girl attending the third grade at Litchfield Elementary School got interested in a small bottle she found at a classmate's house and the two decided to take it to school without realizing that it contained a dangerous chemical.

The two opened the bottle about 7:30 a.m. on the bus on their way to school and some of the chemical evaporated, Superintendent Clair Dean said.

A teacher later saw the two girls play with the bottle at school and the school alerted officials from the state health department and the Environmental Protection Agency, who found mercury levels on the bus, at the school, and on some of the students' clothing, shoes, and backpacks.

The students washed their hands for five minutes. Those whose items were contaminated changed into clothes their parents brought them from home and were allowed to go home about 4 p.m., Ms. Dean said.

The two students who brought the bottle to the school had blood tests done as a precaution. The bus was to be cleaned by a hazardous materials company.

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