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Seriously serious

7 March 2017

My jaw hit the floor yesterday when I read that a Hawkes Bay school had been closed and evacuated following a dangerous chemical spill.

My first thought was that someone had done something stupid with the chemicals used in the school's swimming pool but no, it was far more sinister than that!

It seems that someone had dropped a thermometer and it broke, releasing a *tiny* amount of mercury.


I quickly soaked my handkerchief in water and held it to my face with a trembling hand.

What if the fumes from this highly toxic nerve-agent were to drift a few hundred Km to Tokoroa and affect me?

Okay... let's get serious... are they kidding? Evacuate a school because someone drops a thermometer and just a gram or so of this very dense liquid metal is released?

Hell, when we were kids at high school, the science teacher let us hold this wonderfully heavy silvery fluid in the palms of our hands and an open petri dish of the stuff sat on the lab bench all period (in mid summer) while we discussed its properties.

I did a quick Google on the issue of mercury poisoning from broken thermometers and found this:

"Mercury is not absorbed through intact skin or from a healthy digestive tract in amounts that would cause toxic effects. Therefore, harmful effects would not be expected from swallowing or touching the small amount of mercury from a broken thermometer. However, skin irritation or contact dermatitis may develop"

It would seem that the spill posed no immediate threat to the school, or even those in the classroom at the time. and any science teacher with half a brain would have simply dumped a few hundred grams of sulphur on the spill area to effectively bind with the liquid metal and immediately put a stop to the release of any vapour.

Don't they teach science teachers basic chemistry these days?

What will those same teachers do if someone breaks a fluro tube or CFL at the school -- because these also contain mercury with as significant amount of it in vapour form.

Obviously, one of two things has happened here:

  1. This school, frightened to death by the nation's new and ridiculously OTT Health & Safety regulations reacted in a manner out of all proportion to the danger involved.
  2. As school students, we were exposed to a risk that, by today's standards, would be considered criminal assault and therefore, surely we're entitled to some form of compensation for the physical damage that mercury on our hands and in the air will have surely done to us when we were students.

Personally, I'd like a statement from the Prime Minister either acknowledging the gross over-reaction and the harmful effect these new H&S laws are having on commonsense, or advising me where I can pick up my huge compensation cheque for the damage that was done to me as an innocent student all those years ago.

What do readers think?

A storm in a teacup?

Why do our schools even have mercury if it is a substance that is so dangerous even the tiniest drop in the wild can close a school for a day?

Why don't our science teachers have a risk-management plan for mercury spills that involves dumping another commonly found substance on the spill (such as sulphur) which will immediately bind the mercury into a harmless form?

Just what is the world coming to?

Is it time to make a new felt hat in order to celebrate the growth of ignorance and stupidity in NZ?

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