Washington Twp. school board plans to replace gym floors tested positive for mercury

Molly Daly
April 02, 2019 - 4:39 pm
A basketball court. A special meeting of the Washington Township Board of Education will be held early Wednesday evening to discuss plans to replace nine synthetic gym floors that are emitting low levels of mercury vapor, a neurotoxin.

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WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — A special meeting of the Washington Township Board of Education will be held early Wednesday evening to discuss plans to replace nine synthetic gym floors that are emitting low levels of mercury vapor, which is a neurotoxin.

From the '60s to '90s, rubberized gymnasium floors were often manufactured with a compound called phenylmercuric acetate.

Washington Township school Superintendent Joe Bollendorf said it was a common practice. 

"Pretty much any synthetic floor that was installed likely has mercury in it if it was installed in 1960 or beyond," said Bollendorf. 

As the compound breaks down, the floor emits mercury vapor.  

Bollendorf said extensive testing this past winter shows the mercury levels were well below the state standard. 

Since emissions increase with higher temperatures and poor ventilation, Bollendorf said they're running their HVAC systems around-the-clock at 68 degrees. And, weather permitting, they'll move gym classes outside.

Bollendorf said the best move is to eliminate the source of the neurotoxin altogether, but it won't be cheap.

"We've been given a range of $1.6 million to $3.2 million to replace all nine gym floors," he said. 

While they have plans in place to move activities outside or to another part of the building if the system conks out, that's just for the short term.

"The district's committed to taking steps to eradicate this completely. We won't be satisfied till we have a zero reading. So Wednesday night, the board will come together for a special meeting, where the administration will unveil a plan that we could possibly replace all these gym floors this summer," Bollendorf said. 

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.