District Monitoring Frog Pond Elementary School Gym Floor for Mercury Vapors

Jan 24, 2018

Little Egg Harbor School Superintendent Melissa McCooley and Director of Facilities Seth Cole were being proactive when they hired a company to test the air in the Frog Pond Elementary School’s gymnasium after learning that the type of rubberized floor in the gym can produce mercury vapors, said Business Administrator Nick Brown.

The floor was tested while the school was on winter break and the district received the results on Jan. 5 while the school was out for a snow day. Testing by Epic Environmental Services in Newfield showed the mercury vapor level in the Frog Pond School gym was minimal and the gym safe to use, but the district took remedial steps anyway, said Brown. When children returned on Jan. 8 the gym was closed until Jan. 11 while the school took the remediation actions such as keeping the air handler on day and night and the temperatures cool.

The air in the gym will continue to be monitored the rest of the year, said Brown. The Frog Pond gym was the only floor in the district with a possible mercury vapor problem, he added.

The subject was part of McCooley’s report during the Jan. 22 school board meeting. She referenced the gym floor when discussing the need for a long-range facility plan for capital projects. The district has engaged an architect to identify work that needs to be done and get it into the budgeting process.

“We’re being proactive by monitoring the rubber gym floor that was found to contain traces of mercury vapor after we did a test. We immediately closed the gym and conferred with an environmental consultant that determined it was safe to return to,” said McCooley.

New Jersey Education Association President Nora Maloney thanked McCooley for being proactive and looking out for the physical education teachers who spend all day in the gym.

The association alerted school districts to the possible problem in January. Consultants Adrienne Markowitz and Eileen Senn, in an April 1, 2017 report, wrote, “Suspect floors are synthetic polyurethane – not wood or vinyl. They are resilient and rubber-like, water-resistant and may be tinted any color. They can be in school multipurpose rooms, gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, stages and indoor and outdoor tracks.

“Not every polyurethane floor used mercury as a catalyst and not every floor which used mercury as a catalyst is a public health hazard but some are, especially if they are damaged or deteriorated and in hot rooms with poor ventilation, no outdoor air being pulled in and no air conditioning.”

The floors in question, using 1,000 to 2,0000 parts per million (ppm) of phenyl mecuric acetate (PMA) as a catalyst, have been installed in schools since the 1960s. “PMA breaks down and releases odorless, colorless mercury vapor that emits the vapor indefinitely. Mercury vapor can damage the central nervous system, kidneys, lungs, skin and eyes and is especially harmful to young children and fetuses whose bodies are still developing. Therefore, children, pregnant or soon to be pregnant women and older students are the most vulnerable.”

The health effects of absorbing unsafe levels of mercury vapor depend on how long and how often a person is exposed. Most at risk are staff who spend the most time in rooms with the floors such as the phys ed teachers, athletic staff and custodians who might vacuum or buff the floors.

“The low-level mercury exposures anticipated from mercury floors will hopefully not lead to immediate adverse health effects among those exposed,” wrote the NJEA consultants. “Medical testing and treatment are not anticipated to be needed. But the levels of exposure will vary in each situation depending on floor conditions and room temperatures and ventilation.”

The NJEA shared its findings with the New Jersey School Boards Association in January and states it is the responsibility of local school boards to eliminate any mercury exposures in schools from these floors.

— Pat Johnson








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