Mercury readings prompt emergency response
The Merrick Board of Education passed an emergency resolution to remove and replace the flooring in Norman J. Levy Lakeside School’s Cubs Cave, after elevated levels of mercury vapor were detected and state senators called for action.
The Cubs Cave — a multipurpose room with rubber-like polyurethane flooring — has been closed since May 4. Tests conducted by the district found mercury concentrations of .34 micrograms per cubic meter of air inside it. The acceptable state limit for mercury vapor, which is released when a chemical in the flooring breaks down, is 0.50 micrograms. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a limit of 0.30 micrograms.
“Last evening, June 11, the Board of Education unanimously approved an emergency resolution to proceed with the removal/replacement of the Cubs Cave flooring at Levy Lakeside Elementary School,” Superintendent Dominick Palma wrote in a letter to parents. The district’s environmental testing specialist, J.C. Broderick & Associates, conducted additional tests, Palma added, which “confirmed low levels of mercury in the floor itself, as well as the concrete beneath the floor.”
J.C. Broderick’s report will be published on the district’s website, Palma wrote.
“While the levels detected are very low and are not at the level defined as ‘hazardous’ for purposes of removal,” he continued, “the board and administration would like to eliminate the mercury containing material within Cubs Cave. By passing the emergency resolution yesterday evening, we can now move forward with submitting plans for floor replacement to the New York State Education Department for review and approval.”
Merrick was not the first district hit with a mercury scare. Earlier this year, New Jersey school districts ordered a review of their flooring after vapor was detected in gymnasiums, and the Amityville and Miller Place school districts closed rooms under similar circumstances.
“The discovery that school children may be exposed to toxic mercury vapor is extremely troubling,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, wrote in an email after elevated levels were found. “The health and safety of our children are paramount,” he added in a letter to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia urging a statewide probe into the issue.
State Senators Kevin Thomas, a Levittown Democrat; Anna Kaplan, a Great Neck Democrat; and Jim Gaughran, a Northport Democrat, also joined Kaminsky’s call for an investigation.
On June 11 — the same day as Merrick’s board meeting — a letter from Elia to superintendents urged New York school districts to conduct independent studies on similar flooring.
“We have learned that the rubber-like polyurethane floors using phenyl mercuric acetate (PMA) catalyst were installed in school multipurpose rooms, gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, stages and indoor tracks between the 1960s and 1990s,” Elia wrote. While the breakdown of PMA is odorless and colorless, schools should be on the lookout for floors that are “rubber-like and water-resistant”; “usually one-piece and poured in place”; “smooth, stippled or mesh-like”; and “may have been covered by another floor."
“Exposure to mercury vapor may be worse if floors are damaged or deteriorated or located in a hot room with poor ventilation or lack of air-conditioning,” Elia added.
“It is our hope that this process moves along quickly, which would allow us to replace the floor and concrete this summer,” Palma wrote in his letter. “If for some reason we are not able to complete the project during the summer months, please be assured that Cubs Cave will remain closed to students and staff until the floor has been replaced.”