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Mercury Has No Place In Schools


The recent chemical spill in Manila Science High School is proof that the use of dangerous chemicals, particularly mercury should be completely removed from the curriculum. According to the latest reports, the spill exposed a number of students and school staff and two of those exposed have already developed skin rashes - one of the many symptoms accompanying mercury exposure and poisoning.

While there were other chemicals spilt, mercury is of chief concern for us. As a neurotoxin, physical contact or the inhalation of its vapors can lead to a number of symptoms including headaches, mood swings, neuromuscular changes, respiratory illnesses, and in severe cases - even death.

In 2006, a similar incident happened in another school in another city and has left one student dealing with the effects of mercury exposure. To avoid further untoward incidents, the DOH and the DENR has initiated a phase-out of mercury and mercury-containing products in health care institutions.

However, mercury is still largely present in the dental health sector, mainly among dental colleges. With a curriculum that puts heavy emphasis on dental amalgam use, dentistry students are required to work with these mercury-laden fillings to pass the course. Often, aside from the lack of info on proper amalgam handling and waste disposal; the students are not informed of the health risks involved and are left to handle dental amalgam fillings without wearing any protective gear.

As a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Philippines has a responsibility to phase-down - if not totally phase-out - the use of mercury and mercury-containing products, and this includes dental amalgam fillings. For the past years, IAOMT-Philippines has been consistently calling for the overhaul of the dental curriculum and to limit the exposure of dentistry students and faculty to mercury vapors.

Mercury poses serious health risks and its continued presence in HS laboratories and dental colleges only puts students, faculty, and the entire school community to unwarranted hazards. The availability of upgraded, aesthetic, and modern dental fillings make mercury fillings redundant.

Again, we are urging the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to consider the safety and health of our dental college faculty, staff, and dentistry students. We urge these organizations to assess the current dental curriculum and bring an end to a century old restoration material.