The Kent County prosecutor's office has dropped felony charges against 17-year-old Ryan Gorter who last May had spilled a dime-sized drop of mercury onto the carpeted floor of a Cedar Springs High School classroom. Instead of facing charges, Gorter has agreed to reimburse the school district $2,000 for the insurance deductible it incurred for the clean-up.
Meanwhile, no one in the Cedar Springs school district will be facing charges of criminal incompetence for the outrageous $45,000 cost to clean up the classroom and the two-day school shut-down that was ordered to keep the students away from the half-inch wide spot of contamination there. Apparently it didn't occur to anyone to simply keep the door to the classroom closed while the custodian used the dust-buster to clean the carpet.
None of my contempt for the officialdom's response to Gorter's mischief should be construed to minimize the hazard mercury can present to human life and health, especially that of children. However, it is the dosage that makes the poison, and it would be extraordinary indeed if the tiny amount of mercury involved in this brouhaha could cause harm to anyone. Migosh, folks, as kids we used to play with this fascinating liquid metal while munching on lead paint chips and stripping the fibers off pale green chunks of asbestos.
Yes, mercury is dangerous. A lot of things in life are. And we do our children no favors by fomenting hysteria around everything that might pose a risk to them. The abject failure of the adults of the Kent County prosecutor's office and the Cedar Springs school district to exercise sound judgment in the Gorter affair should make us all wonder if they have what it takes to perceive a genuine threat to the safety of our children. Keep that in mind the next time these public servants are up for election.