Teen’s science project forces evacuation of high school

Shortly after teams of officials responded to a potential HAZMAT emergency Friday afternoon in a small New Jersey town, a teenager emerged on the sidewalk in front of his house to explain what happened.

He said he brought a small, “quarter-sized” piece of an antique plate, known as Fiestaware or uranium glass, to a science class at Haddon Township High School on Monday.

It was part of an exercise to test a geiger counter. He said the teacher thanked him on Monday but by Friday someone determined it constituted a potential biohazard and evacuated the school.

Students were back in school within 30 minutes of being evacuated to the football field at 11:15 a.m., officials said.

“It’s a dramatic over-exaggeration,” said the teen, a sophomore at the high school. “I gave them a quarter-size sample that was enclosed in plastic so it couldn’t be tampered with that gave off less radiation than most things you can find in an antique store. It was intended to be used as a source for calibrating geiger counters.”

Standing on the sidewalk in a t-shirt, teeth encased in braces, shivering intermittently in sub-40-degree temperatures, he shrugged about the uproar, which for him started at 11 a.m. when a township police officer knocked on the door of his home on Walnut Street in the West Collingswood section of the township.

“They said out of an abundance of caution they wanted to make sure nothing I was doing was dangerous,” said the teen, who attends school in person on Monday and Thursday and does remote learning the remainder of the week. “I bought it at a local antique store. It’s called Fiestaware. My teacher thanked me for the sample, hence my confusion on the issue.”

The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office was one of three responding police units that included a half-dozen vehicles with lights flashing in front of the teen’s home at about 2 p.m. A spokeswoman said the investigation is continuing but also concluded there appeared to be no danger to the public after a visit to the school.

The Smithsonian Magazine said “some old Fiestaware from decades ago has been stated to have contained uranium oxide in its glaze, capable of emitting very low levels of radioactivity that would not pose a health risk.”

Meanwhile, the teen joked about the fallout from the incident on social media.

“I checked Facebook and I regret doing so,” he said. “A lot of ‘Back to the Future’ Jokes.”

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