MANILA, Philippines - Four years after his exposure to a mercury during a class science experiment, a former student of St. Andrew's School in Parañaque City yesterday sued his teacher and school officials for negligence.
John Seth Cerillo, who was a 14-year-old freshman when a beaker of mercury was accidentally spilled by students inside a classroom on February 16, 2006, filed a civil case against school officials and Gloria Mercado, a science teacher, at the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court.
Richard Gutierrez, who is one of the lawyers representing the complainant, said that Cerillo was seeking more than P6 million in damages.
Gutierrez told the Inquirer in a phone interview that Cerillo, based on medical tests, is suffering from nerve damage as a result of his exposure to mercury nearly four years ago.
High-grade fever, tremors
"He has symptoms which are similar to Parkinson's disease. He regularly suffers from high-grade fever which causes the onset of tremors," the lawyer said.
"He just turned 18, he's a first year college student who's trying to function as normally as he can but he has been missing a lot of his classes due to his condition," he added.
Cerillo, according to Gutierrez, "cannot go out a lot or engage in a lot of sports. His immune system has been greatly compromised so when he gets a high-grade fever, the tremors start and it takes a while for him to recover."
"It's for life, it's not a problem that will go away," the lawyer said as he explained that mercury is a neurotoxin which attacks the brain and nervous system.
"Since there is no chance of regeneration, his symptoms are irreversible, permanent and incurable," he added.
Cerillo was one of the 13 St. Andrew's students who were confined at the Philippine General Hospital a few days after the class experiment when they developed rashes, a symptom of mercury exposure.
For close monitoring
Gutierrez said Cerillo was among the cases whom doctors had recommended for close monitoring.
"Their negligence robbed my son of a normal childhood," his mother, Juliet, said in a statement.
"We are filing the case because we want to hold the school responsible for [Cerillo's condition]," Gutierrez said.
He pointed out that it took days before St. Andrew's officials took action after the mercury spillage incident occurred.
"It happened on a Thursday and the school remained open and it was only the following week that the school acted on the matter when health officials intervened," he said, pointing out that the school's lack of emergency response showed negligence on the part of its officials.
Gutierrez also pointed out that Cerillo's teacher, with her 20 years of experience, should have known that it was unhealthy to expose children to a dangerous chemical.
"Mercury targets children, pregnant women and the fetus. She should have known that it would target children. She only advised the children to wash their hands after touching the chemical. If she knew what she was doing, she wouldn't have taken it out in the classroom," he said.
He explained that contamination to mercury is not through contact with the chemical but through inhalation.
At the same time, Gutierrez, who is also the executive director of Ban Toxics!, a non-government organization advocating a toxic-free world, criticized the government for not taking action against the use of mercury.
"It has been four years since the mercury spill happened and until now, the Department of Education has not prohibited the use of mercury in elementary and high schools," he said.
"How many poisoned children will it take for our officials to act?" he added.
St. Andrew's was forced to shut down in February 2006 after 80 students were exposed to mercury during a science experiment when some students started playing with a beaker filled with the chemical, spilling some of it.
Some of them were later hospitalised for symptoms of chemical exposure, prompting school officials to close the institution indefinitely on February 20.
A test conducted after the incident had shown the toxicity level at St. Andrew's to be above the threshold of two micrograms per cubic meter, considered toxic to humans.
This prompted officials to shut down the school for three months.
-Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network
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