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March 2004

Illinois Schools 'Decontaminated' by EPA's Hazardous Materials Collection

Springfield, IL— As part of Governor Rod Blagojevich’s commitment to safe school environments and reducing hazardous mercury in the environment, the Illinois EPA has collected mercury and other hazardous materials from more than 130 schools since launching the program in March 2003.

“Under Governor Blagojevich’s administration, 131 chemical collections have been conducted at Illinois schools and more than 300 (55-gallon) drums, including 36 drums of mercury, have been removed for proper recycling or disposal,” said Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano.

Director Cipriano noted Gov. Blagojevich has asked lawmakers to pass the “Mercury Reduction Act” which includes a provision that would prohibit the purchase of pure mercury, mercury compounds and measuring devices by schools unless there is not an adequate substitute, starting July 1, 2005. There is currently an abundance of mercury sitting in schools, creating a potentially hazardous environment for students and staff.  

Exposure to mercury can potentially cause damage to the central nervous system and other disorders and spills can potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up.

Currently, an additional 30 school districts have notified IEPA of inventories of mercury and other hazardous materials they would like help in removing. Collections are currently being scheduled for those schools.

While many schools make their own arrangements for removal of mercury and other chemicals, those that take advantage of the state program realize savings that can be used for classroom instruction.

The IEPA has also partnered with other state agencies and school officials to sponsor several “Safe Chemicals in Schools” workshops that have been attended by custodial and other representatives of more than 240 schools.

Besides mercury, a wide variety of chemicals collected from schools include outdated, expired or unstable laboratory compounds used in science or biology experiments or demonstrations that are corrosive, reactive, poison or flammable.

At the workshops, which are co-sponsored by the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable and Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, staff from Illinois EPA, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Waste Management Research Center present information to help schools deal with leftover or waste chemicals that may still be on their premises.

The workshops also help teachers and other staff members identify and find alternatives to hazardous materials typically used for teaching purposes, such as in science labs, art rooms and shop classes. These chemicals may be dangerous because of their toxic, flammable or reactive properties.

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