Mission Bay High School and two elementary schools were put on lockdown after a student allegedly brought Mercury to school on a school bus and showed it to several classmates.
“One of the students, who was shown this mercury I guess, got some of it and took it on some paper to a ROTC instructor to show him and then he became concerned, as well he should have, and then notified school police,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue spokesperson Maurice Luque.
At least seven students at Mission Bay High School, a teacher and the bus driver were exposed, Luque said. Two of the students, including the student who took the mercury to school, and the bus driver tested positive for high levels of contamination. They were decontaminated and showered on campus.
Mercury is highly poisonous.
“It vaporizes very quickly, but if it’s ingested and if it’s on your clothing, there’s a good chance of that getting into your mouth if you eat. So yes, there is a large amount of concern,” Luque said.
The school was put on lockdown as Hazmat teams from San Diego Fire and the County investigated.
“They’ve taken readings in various classrooms and they have found some very high dangerous readings in some of the rooms and on some of the clothing of the students. That clothing is being confiscated,” Luque said.
Exposed students in other classrooms were being kept in place so they didn’t further contaminate other students. All but the two students who were heavily contaminated were later released.
“The situation is further complicated because the bus the students went to school on was used to transport 48 students to another elementary school and another 23 students to a third school,” Luque said.
That bus was being examined to see if it too contained high levels of contamination.
“In the meantime, the students at those two other schools are basically being held in kind of a lockdown there so that they don’t further spread the contamination, if indeed they are contaminated to other students,” Luque said.
Those other two schools are Toler Elementary and Bay Park Elementary, according to Luque.
“Mercury has a little intrigue to it, the way that it kind of comes together and separates, so there is some kind of playful nature,” he said.
But he doesn’t think the student realized the danger.
“This wasn’t anything devious. This wasn’t anything meant to be malicious in any way. It was just kind of an accidental situation, him bringing it to school, and it being highly toxic. Exposing all these other students really caused a lot of concern,” Luque said.
Dawn Gilsdorf showed up at Mission Bay High School expecting to pick up her son and got a shocking surprise instead.
"It's horrifying walking up to the school and seeing flashing lights on the police cars and not knowing what's going on inside and you know your child's there," said Gilsdorf.
She immediately text messaged her son Shane, an 11th grader on the water polo team to find out if he was okay.
"He said I'm really hungry," Gildorf said, adding that she'd stayed in constant contact with her son via text message. "They let them use their cell phones in emergency situations."
Word of the lock down spread fast via social media. Lilyana Macias and her boyfriend Dylan Burton who had skipped class to have breakfast kept in touch with their friends inside the school via Facebook and text message.
"Their status were ‘we're locked in a room, I'm so hungry there needs to be lunch, I really have to go to the bathroom’," said Macias as she read a long list messages from her cell phone.
She had spoken with her mother by phone earlier in the day to tell her she was okay. With everything that happened she said she doubted her mother would come down on her too hard for ditching class.
"I don't think she thinks it's such a bog deal now, she's glad I'm okay," Macias said.