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E-M:/ Report find dentists a major mercury source

Title: Report find dentists a major mercury source
Exposť Shows Dental Uses Among Largest Sources of Mercury Pollution; American Dental Association Obstructs Protection Efforts

June 5, 2001
Contact:        Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center, 734-761-3186, ext. 17
Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project, 802-223-9000.
Stacy Malkan, Health Care Without Harm, 202-234-0091, ext. 14

A first-of-its-kind comprehensive report that looks at the environmental impacts of the dental industry's use of mercury is being released June 5 by the Ecology Center, the Mercury Policy Project and Health Care Without Harm. Among other significant findings, the report reveals that the dental industry is now the third largest user of mercury in the U.S. and the industry is the single largest discharger of mercury to the nation's wastewater treatment plants. 
The report -- "Dentist the Menace? The Uncontrolled Release of Dental Mercury"-- also charges the American Dental Association with working vigorously to impede regulations that would protect the public.

"Despite substantial scientific evidence that mercury is dangerous to the environment and human health, the American Dental Association is actively working against safety measures that would require dentists to trap and recycle this toxic metal," said Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director of the Ecology Center. 

A 1995 report by the Michigan Mercury Pollution Prevention Task Force issued eight recommendations, including improved mercury waste management, but no systematic programs to remove dental mercury from the waste stream have been put into place.  One successful endeavor, a bulk mercury collection effort by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, in conjunction with an education campaign for dentists on best management practices, resulted in the collection of over 1300 pounds of mercury. The success of that one-time, voluntary project underscores the need for a more comprehensive dental mercury collection effort.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. One in 10 reproductive-age American women already carry so much mercury in their blood to pose a threat of neurological damage to the fetus if they got pregnant, according to a 2001 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention study.

"While many other industries, including hospitals, are phasing out the use of mercury products, the dental industry continues to use large amounts of mercury and dispose of it improperly.  We call on ADA, and on dentists everywhere, to pledge to stop polluting our environment and endangering our health," stated Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project.

In the process of restoring teeth with so-called "silver" fillings - which are actually 50% mercury - dentists use approximately 40 metric tons of mercury each year, most of which is eventually released into the environment. 

Fortunately, alternative filling materials are available, and there are cost effective devices to properly manage waste dental mercury. "For about $50 a month, slightly less than the cost of a single filling, dentists could stop mercury from going down the drain," Bender said.
Yet only a small percentage of dentists nationwide are taking steps to collect and recycle mercury waste, including installing amalgam separation filters necessary to reduce mercury discharges.
The report is available at http://www.noharm.org/library/docs/Dentist_the_Menace.pdf .


Mary Beth Doyle, MPH
Environmental Health Project
Ecology Center
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor MI 48104

734-663-2400 ext 108
734-663-2414 (fax)