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Mercury from broken thermometer shuts down NW Side elementary school

Teachers round up students outside Camras Elementary School on Friday to transport them to another school Wednesday morning while their building was assessed following a small mercury spill the previous day. | Provided

A Northwest Side elementary school remains closed as federal cleanup crews assess the building for mercury after a thermometer broke inside the school on Tuesday afternoon.

Camras Elementary’s roughly 950 students still were told to show up for classes Wednesday, though, as they were taken to nearby Mary Lyon School during the closure deemed precautionary by Chicago Public Schools officials following the small but toxic spill.

Emergency crews responded to Camras at 3:26 p.m. Tuesday after a thermometer broke at the building at 3000 N. Mango Ave., exposing two adults and 17 students to mercury, according to Chicago police.

Paramedics cleared everyone at the scene, authorities said.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency workers were called to screen the school and students’ backpacks, clothes and belongings for traces of mercury vapor, according to an EPA spokeswoman. The federal agency was still overseeing the cleanup on Wednesday.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton said students were exposed to “a very small amount of mercury,” according to the district. Staffers called 911 after “one small thermometer” broke.

“Following the incident, the Chicago Fire Department cleared the health and safety of all students involved, and out of an abundance of caution, the district has enlisted environmental experts to do a full assessment of the school to ensure all areas have been fully cleaned,” Bolton said.

A teacher who asked not to be named said students found the broken thermometer in a science lab, and that it wasn’t clear how much time elapsed before they reported it.

The teacher said students were initially quarantined in the basement before eventually being evacuated.

A chaotic scene ensued this morning when hundreds of students reported to the front of the building and walked with teachers about a mile to Mary Lyon School, according to the teacher, who fears workplace retaliation.

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Parents of the involved children were notified of the spill and a robocall was sent to the school community, according to CPS.

“As a precaution, to ensure the building is safe to occupy we are keeping the school building closed while we work to ensure that all areas have been fully cleaned,” Camras Principal Clariza Dominicci said in an email to parents.

Mercury poisoning can cause vision loss, motor skills impairment, muscle weakness and memory loss, according to the EPA. It can be especially damaging to children early in their brain development.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday afternoon if classes would resume as normal on Thursday.