Cleanup of the October mercury spill at LaFayette High School cost Walker County Schools $54,308.
CleanHarbors Environmental Services was hired after school officials found the toxic substance had been taken from a school science lab, officials said.
On Nov. 11, officials found "mercury beads" in an unattached mobile classroom and reported the discovery to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury was found in three classrooms and on the shoes of three people, according to the EPA.
An EPA report released Nov. 18 stated that traces of mercury were found at the school and at a home on McLemore Street in LaFayette. The report stated that only one of the five homes screened by EPA officials "exceeded residential limits."
The mercury passed among three or four students over several days and was carried from school to their homes. School officials used zinc and sulfur compounds to clean up the spill, reports state.
Most of the cleanup work was done over the Thanksgiving break.
AT A GLANCE
Mercury is a hazardous substance that can cause brain, kidney and lung damage in humans and may harm developing fetuses, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Walker County Board of Education members approved the cleanup bill at their Dec. 1 meeting.
Board member Jim Smith said he didn't believe the school system would seek restitution. The important issue, he said, was to make sure the school was cleaned up and to learn from the experience.
He said educators must "think about where the hazards are and protect the students from themselves."
"There's a lot of ordinary materials that, if they're not handled right, they're dangerous," he said.
Local Health Department officials said there have been no further reports of people showing high levels of mercury exposure.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...