January 8, 2004

Genius of the Year

I see that entries are already being submitted for the Genius of the Year awards. Here’s is Nevada’s first applicant of the new year: the kid who brought liquid mercury to his middle school. This Young Future Thinker of Tomorrow thought it would be fantastic to bring a quarter cup of liquid mercury on the school bus, and into the classroom, and hand it around to all his friends to play with. So then the sheriff’s office thought it would be completely fabulous to put the school into lockdown, quarantining everybody where they stood, and bringing in the hazmat team to “decontaminate” the students. The entire school reverted to martial law: lock the doors, and don’t let anybody in or out.

This is the school Viola works at. She was in the classroom with the deaf kids when the lockdown occurred. They were stuck in that room for four hours. Luckily, their room has an adjoining bathroom and a refrigerator with food and drinks. Most of the other students in the school were not so fortunate. Usually they put off eating and visiting the john until lunchtime; the lockdown happened ten minutes before lunch.

Finally, the non-contaminated students were released, one class at a time. It was a full scale evacuation. Everyone had to put plastic bags on their feet. The kids were put on clean busses, driven across town to the fairgrounds, then transferred to their regular busses and driven home. Viola drove one of the deaf girls home rather than have her go through all that confusion. The contaminated kids were stripped, showered, and either given gowns or had clean clothes brought from home. Everything they were wearing, everything they brought to school, was confiscated, and will only be returned if it is found to be free of mercury. Eventually, the school was occupied only by officials wandering around in hazmat suits. It looked like a scene out of E.T. On Wednesday the EPA showed up from San Francisco. Today the CDC is here out of Washington, D.C. There will be no classes until Monday, and that’s only if their mercury tests come up negative. This stuff got on the desks and in the carpets in four different rooms in the school. They have to clean it up, then seal and heat the school and check for traces of mercury vapors in the air. If there are still detectable amounts, the whole cleaning process has to be restarted. And the worst part? Any school days the kids miss will have to be made up at the end of the year. I think the kid who brought the stuff in is going to be pretty unpopular for a while.

So here’s the moral of the story, kids. Mercury? Just say no. Yeah, it’s shiny and cool and the monster was made out of it in that old Terminator movie your parents used to watch. But if you play with it you’ll get acne, and your teeth will rot, and you’ll grow a third arm, and then none of the girls will want to go out with you. Mercury: our futuristic enemy.

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