February 1, 2001

Mercury Detected at Fall Creek Elementary School

Print More

High levels of mercury were discovered on the grounds of Fall Creek Elementary School last week, after a concerned parent collected soil samples and submitted them for testing.

The results indicated that mercury levels on the school grounds exceed the state’s cleanup guideline of .1 part per million. A sample from Fall Creek Elementary registered .68 parts per million of mercury.

Hazards Unlikely

Although high levels of the toxic metal can cause health problems ranging from tremors to birth defects, the levels found at Fall Creek will not likely be dangerous, according to Prof. Murray McBride, soil chemistry.

“While I would consider a value of .68 to be elevated, and probably an indication of contamination, I doubt that it would represent a health hazard. In urban areas, and particularly where fossil fuels are being burned, I suspect that levels in the range measured are not unusual,” McBride said.

Sarah Long, the parent who collected the samples, contacted a lab about testing the school’s soil after reading about lead contamination in the nearby Ithaca Falls gorge area. Pollution from the former Ithaca Gun factory, which is close to the elementary school, caused contamination at Ithaca Falls. The recent test, however, did not indicate an excess of lead at the school.

Still, Long is alarmed by the mercury concentration.

“I feel a real connection with the children and families of the neighborhood and I feel strongly that [the mercury] be investigated further by the proper authorities,” Long said to The Ithaca Journal.

Ithaca City School District (ICSD) Superintendent Judith Pastel announced plans to test for mercury in four other area schools. Ithaca Mayor Alan J. Cohen ’81 added that if the results indicate a high level of contamination, he would request a larger scale investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Environmental Health

The Tompkins County Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health is working with the ICSD, the DEC and the State Department of Health to resolve the issue, according to Director John M. Andersson.

Cohen held an informational meeting last Friday for the community, during which representatives from the State Department of Health and the DEC discussed the findings and answered questions.

Furthermore, Prof. McBride cautioned against relying too heavily on the results of one sample analyzed by a single lab, and said he would like to see more samples analyzed to confirm the result.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin