Mercury Rising


You have, perhaps by now, read a story that broke a week or two ago. There are still unanswered questions about the source of several ounces by volume of liquid mercury that a school child innocently brought to his school.

Talk about a freak-out. A swarm of hazmat-garbed toxicology agents besieged the school, which is opening back up for classes again just today, to clean up the potential toxin.

Now this story is close to my heart, being thankful, in hindsight, that my similar stunt in grammar school back shortly after the end of the last ice age did not produce an equivalent freaking-out.

I don’t remember where I got it. But I held a little puddle of it in my hand. I coated old nickels and dimes with it. I made little raceways with pencils on the slope of my desk and retrieved the winning glob at at the finish line. Mostly.

And yet, perhaps had I not be poisoned by this early exposure, I might have turned out normal. But then today’s normal maybe is not such a high ideal, come to think of it. I’ll just be happy to be your eccentric, quirky, weird Uncle Fred–mad as a hatter but too dumb and happy to care.

EPA puzzled by amount of mercury at Las Vegas middle school


Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

5 Comments on “Mercury Rising

  1. Back when I was at school someone smeared mercury on the aluminium stair treads producing long fronds of mercury amalgam. That particular prank wasn’t me…

  2. I remember having some of it too. Like you – we made those nickels and dimes shiny. Don’t remember what else we did with it. Guess that explains a lot on my end too.

  3. We too had mercury to play with, and as an USAF brat it would have been military grade mercury!

    I have no actual memory of where it came from, just that I passed the time in school playing with it at my desk.

  4. I wasn’t that adventurous, but I do remember seeing mercury–possibly a classroom demonstration. I don’t think I actually touched it. We had no idea it was a dangerous substance. Aah, ignorance, wasn’t it wonderful!

  5. Today we’re over-protective. Maybe in some ways, underprotective is better for children’s adventures if not for parent’s peace of mind?

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