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LENOIR, NC (WBTV) -
LENOIR, NC (WBTV) - The Environmental Protection Agency spent the night at a Lenoir elementary school after school officials say a student brought a small vial of mercury to school and accidentally broke it open.
The incident happened at Whitnel Elementary School on Wednesday morning when a 5th grade girl brought the mercury to school. Police say she found it in a junkyard.
School officials quickly tried to decontaminate four students who touched the mercury when it spilled. They said it was only a dime-sized amount of mercury, but enough to be hazardous. Mercury is a liquid at room temperature and can be toxic if ingested.
The entire school was evacuated as a precaution, and the students who were not exposed were taken to a nearby church.
In addition to the four students who touched the mercury, eleven other children who were in the classroom were quarantined. School officials, at the instruction of the EPA, had the students change their clothes and get rid of their shoes. They were released a short time later.
Investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency said contamination was likely confined to a single classroom, thanks to quick efforts by school officials and local emergency management including Lenoir Police, Lenoir Fire, and Caldwell County Emergency Management.
They say further testing will be needed to make sure the contamination didn't escape the classroom when the children moved.
Emergency officials say the evacuation was necessary because the school was sealed and air-conditioned, making it easy for the chemical fumes to travel. Mercury can give off a vapor, making it possible to be airborne.
EPA officials told WBTV the mercury was part of some type of electrical switch from an electrical device.
School officials say there will be no school on Thursday for students and teachers. Environmental officials say it could take a day or two to get the school cleaned, depending on what they find.
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