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Mercury vapor forces closing of Miller Place High School gym, superintendent says

Superintendent Marianne F. Cartisano said in a letter to parents that the district is looking into the possibilty that the gym's original 1970s-era synthetic flooring, which contained mercury, could be degrading and emitting the vapor.

The gymnasium at Miller Place High School has been closed after potentially hazardous mercury vapor was detected, possibly coming from the original synthetic flooring under the wood, school district officials said Sunday.

Superintendent Marianne F. Cartisano, in an email Sunday night to parents and school staff, said air testing performed Thursday in the high school's gym and nearby areas such as the girls’ locker room, auditorium and under the stage, indicated "recordable levels of mercury vapor."

Further testing on Friday and Saturday, after the gym's interior was closed, showed all tested areas except the gym "cleared all air monitoring and testing," Cartisano said, while adding that there are no federal or New York State guidelines for mercury vapor levels in school buildings.

The retesting showed the gym exceeded guideline limits for mercury vapor in schools set in Minnesota, the only state with standards in that area.

"As a precautionary measure, and based on the advice of the District’s environmental consultants, the District is keeping the gymnasium closed, and restricting all access, until further testing is conducted and a plan of action based on the results of that testing is determined," Cartisano said in the email. 

A representative for the Miller Place Union Free School District confirmed the email Sunday night, but said the district would have no further comment. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, breathing in high levels of mercury on a short-term basis can cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and nausea. Longer-term exposure can result in damage to the nervous system and kidneys, causing tremors, insomnia and memory loss, the department said. 

Cartisano said the district is looking into the possibility that the gym's original 1970s-era synthetic flooring, which contained mercury, could be degrading and emitting the mercury vapor. In the late 1990s, the original flooring was encapsulated and covered with wood flooring, Cartisano said. 

The potential cost of remediation to the gym floor was not immediately disclosed.

Earlier this month, eight schools in Washington Township, New Jersey, closed their gymnasiums under similar circumstances, according to NJ.com.

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