A controversial theory linking amalgam fillings and mercury poisoning is starting to gain scientific acceptance.
Kris Homme, a retired engineer, did not know what was happening to her. At age 33, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration — a disease that usually does not appear until old age. Not one to give up, she somehow managed to complete two graduate degrees with impaired vision. Then, in her 40s, she developed chronic fatigue and multiple chemical sensitivities.
“I was pretty much housebound for a couple years,” she recalls. “I just didn’t have the strength to leave the house by myself. I was able to keep my house fragrance-free but I had trouble being in a crowd, like on a bus or in an audience where you’re sitting next to people because so many people wear fragrances. Or walking on the streets, the car exhaust would be overpowering.”
A friend suggested her problem might be mercury exposure from her dental fillings, but she dismissed the idea. After all, her neurologist had already tested her blood for mercury and did not find anything to worry about.
Homme had a mouth full of amalgam fillings, each of which is 50 percent mercury. The mercury in them was long thought to be inert, but scientists later discovered that some of the mercury is released as vapor and absorbed into the body. Still, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association maintained they were perfectly safe.
As an engineer, Homme cannot be easily fooled. Even when telling her own story, she repeatedly questions why anyone would want to hear one story when it cannot constitute proof of anything. Knowledge and facts come from carefully controlled, randomized, statistically significant scientific studies, not anecdotes and stories.
The theory that amalgam fillings caused mercury poisoning “all sounded so flaky,” she remembers. “The anti-mercury movement has a lot of unfortunate bedfellows so I dismissed the argument.”
What’s more, she had a degree in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley. “I just thought that if that was an issue it would have been covered in my prestigious degree program.”
Finally, her friend gave her a book to read, Amalgam Illness, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Andrew Hall Cutler. “I stayed up late, reading and crying. All my symptoms fit and all the theory fit, the theory about how it’s not going to show up in a blood test because you’re retaining it, you’re not excreting it. My whole world turned upside down when I realized my doctors and dentists were so wrong and my degree program was so inadequate and it was like, if I can’t believe any of that, what is true? Who can I believe?”
Today Homme is one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the FDA, demanding it respond to several petitions that ask it to ban — or at least seriously restrict — the use of amalgam fillings. Other plaintiffs include the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, Moms Against Mercury, and the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED), as well as several individuals. She’s also published a peer-reviewed paper summarizing new studies demonstrating the harm of amalgam fillings.
The FDA’s strongest evidence of the safety of amalgam fillings are two studies published in 2006 called the “Children’s Amalgam Trials.” One was conducted in New England, the other inPortugal. In them, hundreds of healthy children with low levels of mercury and lead, plenty of unfilled cavities and no previous amalgam fillings were divided into two groups. One group received amalgam fillings, and the other received composite fillings. The children were then monitored over a period of years for changes in mercury levels, IQ, memory and several other neurological tests. They also tracked major health problems in the children over the course of the study.
Both studies found higher levels of mercury in the urine of children who received amalgam fillings, but, on average, they found no significant differences in neurological development and function between the two groups. The New England study also tested kidney function and found no significant differences between the two groups.
But reanalysis of the data from these studies show that perhaps the amalgam fillings were not so benign.
As Homme points out, humans differ both in their exposure to mercury and their susceptibility to it. When a person who is highly susceptible to mercury is exposed to enough of it, he or she gets sick — even if the same dose would not cause problems for someone who is less susceptible.
Scientists have already identified several genes that cause increased susceptibility to mercury. One of them is called CPOX4. A 2012 study looked at a subset of 330 children from the Children’s Amalgam Trial conducted in Portugal and found that about 28 percent of them had the susceptible variant of the CPOX4 gene.
Rather than simply averaging the results of the amalgam group and the composite group, the researchers looked at the correlations between urinary mercury levels and neurological test results. Among boys (but not girls) who had the CPOX4 gene variant, the researchers found several significant neurobehavioral deficits associated with increased mercury exposure.
Three other studies also re-examined the data from the Portugal study. One found evidence that amalgam fillings are a “significant chronic contributor to Hg [mercury] body-burden.” A secondfound that children with the CPOX4 gene variant also had biomarkers of mercury-related kidney damage. The third found neurobehavioral deficits in children who had two other gene variants that made them more susceptible to mercury.
In other words, amalgam fillings impact on your health depends on your genes, your exposure (how many fillings you have and how long you’ve had them) and maybe your sex. But if you’re among the susceptible population and your exposure is high enough, it appears that you might suffer health consequences as a result.
These latest studies were all published between 2011 and 2013, but critics of amalgam fillings sounded the alarm long before then.
The story of U.S. regulation of amalgam fillings begins in 1976, when Congress passed theMedical Device Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Safety Act. The amendments required the government to place all medical devices into one of three classifications based on risk. The riskiest items would be put into Class III, which means they would require pre-market approval by the government to verify their safety and effectiveness before they could be sold.
Years went by, and the FDA did nothing. In 2006, it released a draft white paper on amalgam filling safety and held a two-day meeting with a panel of experts to discuss it. The experts voted down the white paper by a margin of nearly two to one.
The next year, Moms Against Mercury and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the FDA commissioner, asking the FDA (which still had not classified amalgam fillings) to remove the fillings from the market. The case was settled a year later, with the FDA promising to classify amalgam fillings by July 28, 2009.
A few days before the deadline, Moms Against Mercury and others submitted a Citizens Petition, again asking the FDA to ban amalgam fillings, or — if it was unable to do that — classify them as Class III and “seek strict proof of safety and effectiveness” before allowing them to be sold. At the very least, the group asked the FDA to place restrictions on the use of amalgam fillings in the most susceptible populations, such as pregnant women and children. Additionally, they called on the FDA to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment for amalgam fillings.
Days later, the FDA issued a final rule, classifying dental amalgam fillings as Class II. Class II medical devices are subject to what the FDA calls “special controls,” which might include testing or warning labels, but they do not require any FDA approval before they are allowed on the market.
The petitioners almost immediately submitted a second petition, this one asking the FDA to reconsider its classification. At the time, scientists already knew the significance of the CPOX4 gene variation. The petitioners also disputed the FDA’s estimation of how much mercury one was exposed to from amalgam fillings, particularly because the FDA ignored children under six and assumed that nobody got more than 10 amalgam fillings. And they felt that some of the FDA’s data was out of date.
One important part of the debate is the idea of a “reference concentration,” the amount of mercury one can be exposed to without “appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime,” even for sensitive individuals.
In 1995, the EPA set its reference concentration for elemental mercury (the type of mercury in amalgam fillings) at 0.3 micrograms per cubic meter. (Jim Love, the lawyer who filed the petitions on behalf of Moms Against Mercury and others, calls their number “outdated.”) California’s EPA set its reference concentration 10 times lower, at 0.03 micrograms per cubic meter.
Using 2001 to 2004 population statistics, a 2011 study estimated that, using the U.S. EPA’s reference concentration, 67.2 million were getting too much mercury from their fillings. The number of Americans absorbing an unsafe level of mercury from their fillings jumps to 122.3 million if one uses California’s lower reference concentration instead.
In other words, how much mercury are Americans getting from their fillings, and how much mercury equals too much? According to the FDA, Americans are not getting too much mercury from their fillings, and according to the petitioners — and the 2011 study — they are. Love, the petitioners’ lawyer, feels, “It’s beyond debate based on the weight of the evidence that we’re getting too much mercury.”
After several years without a response from the FDA, the group filed an addendum to their petition with updated science in 2013. Love is passionate about the cause.
“If we do clinical studies, are we going to find people with neurobehavioral harm?” he asks. “Are we going to find people with impaired kidney function? The answer is yes, and those studies have come out also. So when you talk to a dentist and he says there isn’t any evidence, ask him if he’s read our 2013 petition. I wouldn’t have filed the petition if I didn’t think the evidence was there.”
Now, in 2013, the FDA has yet to respond to the petitions. On behalf of his clients, Love has filed a lawsuit against the FDA.
“It’s a very simple lawsuit,” he says. “It’s under the Administrative Procedure Act. FDA is duly obligated to respond to our petition. They haven’t done that. They are allowed 180 days by statute and they can ask for and receive more time.”
The 180-day mark passed long ago, in 2010. The plaintiffs cannot force the FDA to ban amalgam fillings, but they can push the FDA, through the courts, to respond to their petitions. And that’s what they are trying to do.
“We don’t think there is an intellectually honest response that can continue to justify the ongoing use of mercury fillings,” continues Love. “Our contention is that the court should and almost certainly will compel the FDA to file a response to our citizens’ petitions.”
He adds, “In our complaint, we spell out the fact that the largest purchaser of amalgam fillings is the US government and they supply them to the indigent, those on welfare, the US military, those on Indian reservations, and as far as we can tell from where we sit, other alternatives are not available … One of our plaintiffs in fact is in prison. He would like his amalgam fillings removed.” But since the government says the fillings are safe, the prisoner is stuck with them.
Initially, Love thought that amalgam fillings were going the way of cassette tapes and VCRs. “Lots of people get composite fillings [instead of amalgam] because they are white and they are more attractive.” But, it turns out that even today, the majority of new fillings are still amalgam.
As the insurance company Delta Dental notes, tooth-colored composite fillings are more expensive than amalgam fillings and sometimes insurance companies do not cover them, or only cover them in teeth visible in a patient’s smile. The last time I had dental insurance, my insurance would have covered 90 percent of the cost of amalgam fillings but about half the cost of composite fillings. I found that out only after the dentist had placed several composite fillings in my mouth and the receptionist handed me a large bill. If I were informed of the cost difference in advance, would I have opted for mercury?
If you are worried about amalgam fillings in your mouth, you can have them removed. Kris Homme, who had hers removed in 2008, cautions that you should seek out a safe removal specialist because “a normal dentist might not use proper precautions.”
In a letter to European Union (EU) member state representatives and dental experts, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) asked recipients to support a phase-out of the use of mercury in dentistry, both in the EU and around the world.
The EU has been aggressive in both their intent and actions aimed at reducing mercury usage, and even adopted a mercury strategy in 2005, which contains 20 measures to reduce mercury emissions, cut supply and demand and protect against exposure.
The EEB letter comes on the heels of a July 2012 European Commission report by BIO Intelligence Service (BIOS),1 which also recommended the phase-out of dental amalgam and mercury in button cell batteries.
Will the EU Continue to Outpace the U.S. in Protecting Their Citizens from Mercury?
The European Commission has been working to reduce mercury exposure to humans for the past seven years. While the official stand has been that dental amalgam is safe, recent studies suggest otherwise. Sweden has already phased out dental mercury, and several other European countries have either significantly reduced its use or have imposed restrictions on it. The United States has been shockingly slow to respond to mounting evidence of significant harm from dental amalgam.
As the European Commission states:2
“Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at ambient temperature. It is a chemical element and therefore indestructible. This means that there is a “global pool” of mercury circulating in society and the environment – between air, water, sediments, soil and living organisms.
Mercury and most of its compounds are highly toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems. High doses can be fatal to humans, but even relatively low doses can seriously affect the nervous system and have been linked with possible harmful effects on the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems.
In the presence of bacteria, mercury can change into methylmercury, its most toxic form. Methylmercury readily passes through both the placenta and the blood-brain barrier, so exposure of women of child-bearing age and of children, is of greatest concern.”
The use of mercury fillings is very much an issue of global concern, as once in the environment, dental mercury converts to its even more toxic form, methylmercury, and becomes a major source of accumulated mercury in the fish you eat. So even if you were somehow ok with implanting this toxin directly into your mouth, it’s difficult to ignore the environmental ramifications. Mercury from dental amalgam pollutes:
Water via not only dental clinic releases and human waste (amalgam is by far the largest source of mercury in our wastewater)
Air via cremation, dental clinic emissions, sludge incineration, and respiration; and
Soil via landfills, burials, and fertilizer
The fact that amalgam releases so much mercury into the environment is one reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) also urges “a switch in use of dental materials” away from amalgam.3 Although, they, too, noted that dental amalgam raises “general health concerns.” The WHO report observed:
“According to the Norwegian Dental Biomaterials Adverse Reaction Unit, the majority of cases of side-effects of dental filling materials are linked with dental amalgam.”
Why is This Archaic Practice Still in Use?
Amalgam simply has no place in 21st century dentistry. Yet, a decade ago, as our century dawned, amalgam was riding high. Three powerful institutional forces combined, if not conspired, to keep primacy for amalgam in American dentistry.
One was in state government (the state dental boards), another in the federal government (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA), and the third, a private monopoly (the American Dental Association, or ADA).
The dental boards actually enforced a gag rule that prohibited American dentists from discussing mercury with their patients; in turn, FDA adamantly refused to do its legal duty to issue a rule on amalgam that would have undone the mercury secret — while the role of the ADA – with its gigantic PAC funds – was to keep much of Congress and many state legislatures in its hip pocket. Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice called these three forces – state dental boards, FDA, ADA – the “Iron Triangle.”
Even to this day, most dental patients are not informed that amalgam is 50 percent mercury – many are told that amalgams are “silver fillings” … nor are they informed of the potential risks to their health.
Finally, the momentum toward mercury-free dentistry is gaining speed and, it appears, may be set to become a reality in the 21st century – with continued support.
Those fighting for mercury-free dentistry at the international mercury treaty talks stood alone at the first session, in Stockholm in June 2010. But after building alliances with environmental groups, medical societies and consumer groups, at the second treaty session in Japan, the third in Kenya, and the fourth in Uruguay, those in favor of mercury-free dentistry, led by Consumers for Dental Choice, outflanked, outworked, and outpointed the opposition.
At the fourth treaty session, Consumers for Dental Choice and its World Alliance allies succeeded in keeping amalgam in the draft treaty by emphasizing the known environmental harms caused by amalgam and offering practical solutions. They distributed the landmark economics report The Real Cost of Dental Mercury4 to delegates. This report shows that an amalgam filling can cost up to $87 more than a composite filling once the environmental cost of each material is taken into account.
As a result of this environmental strategy, support from government officials and influential organizations from around the world continues to grow. Consumers for Dental Choice and its World Alliance colleagues have laid the groundwork for future success at the final mercury treaty session in Geneva in January 2013. There, the decision about amalgam (and virtually all other major treaty decisions), will be made. The challenge is great, but I believe we have found the right organization to lead us.
How You Can Support Mercury-Free Dentistry
Right now, you can help progress against dental mercury in two ways:
Write a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking them to take action against harmful mercury pollution
Make a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, to help them fight for your right to mercury-free dentistry
EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has done more to protect us from mercury than all other EPA administrators put together. She has written strong rules addressing mercury in air pollution. When you write, please thank her for her diligent work against mercury, and urge her to turn her attention now to dental mercury, as it is a major source of mercury in the environment.
Please remember that the EPA does not regulate the safety of health products, so do not discuss how amalgam in the mouth is damaging. The EPA’s role is to keep toxins out of the environment, so focus your correspondence on the environmental impact of dental mercury. This is where she has the authority to act. Actual letters in the U.S. mail have more impact than emails, so we encourage you to write and mail a letter! Please send it to:
Lisa Jackson, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
If you send an email, send it to Administrator Jackson at: Jackson.LisaP@epa.gov. To get noticed, emails need a good subject line; we recommend something like “Take action against dental mercury.”
Consumers for Dental Choice and its allies have made amazing progress against this primitive, polluting mercury product, but the battle is not won yet – dental mercury is still being dumped in nations all around the world… and in your own community. Will you please consider a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advocating mercury-free dentistry?
Donations are tax-exempt and can be made online at www.toxicteeth.org. Checks can be mailed to:
Consumers for Dental Choice
316 F St., N.E., Suite 210
Washington, DC 20002
The shocking truth about what’s really in vaccines: Mercury, MSG, Formaldehyde, Aluminum
(NaturalNews) Did you know the CDC openly admits that all the following chemicals are intentionally added to vaccines? Formaldehyde, aluminum, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and mercury.
Each of these toxic substances is well known to cause neurological damage, and the amounts added to vaccines are far beyond mere “trace” levels. This helps explain why vaccines are documented to cause:
The vaccine industry refuses to manufacture “clean” vaccines for the masses
British royalty are given special “clean” vaccines that contain none of these metals. The same is undoubtedly true with the global elite who eat all non-GMO, organic produce.
The chemicals are intended for the masses. Whether it’s genetically modified food, pesticide-contaminated food or vaccines laced with mercury and MSG, the public is being poisoned by design.
The purpose of this poisoning is two-fold: 1) To keep the population subsisting in a never-ending state of chronic disease in order to enrich the drug companies. And 2) To reduce the population through vaccine-induced infertility and abortions.
The vaccine industry and all its pushers pretend that vaccines are harmless and yet they were forced to pass congressionally-approved blanket immunity because vaccines were maiming and killing so many Americans that the lawsuits would have bankrupted the industry.
You have to ask the commonsense question: If vaccines are so perfectly safe and have no side effects, why did they need blanket immunity? And why have tens of millions of dollars in injury compensationalready been paid out to vaccine victims?
A preliminary vote endorsing the continued use of dental amalgam has put the spotlight on the American Public Health Association (APHA), since it has long recognized the harm to the environment and public health of mercury releases.
The importance of APHA getting it right on the issue of dental mercury cannot be overstated, and this latest about-face has many scratching their heads, wondering how they could get it so wrong…
The Association is the only progressive multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to public health in the US, representing more than 60,000 health care workers. It has been an important organization for the validation of many of our environmental health resolutions over the last 20 years.
Its influence can also be felt internationally. As one of the largest public health associations it has great influence within the World Federation of Public Health Associations, so its position on this issue will be viewed as a broad pronouncement about what is good for the public’s health not just within the United States, but also abroad.
All of this makes APHA’s recent policy statement, reported by DentistryIQ1, so profoundly disturbing:
“The American Dental Association supports the American Public Health Association’s recent policy statement affirming that dental amalgam is safe and effective in treating dental cavities.”
The APHA policy notes that amalgam’s contribution to environmental mercury contamination is minimal, and that limiting or curtailing its availability could have negative health consequences, particularly in low-income areas, the featured article reports.
Members are urging the association to reconcile its contradictory positions before a final vote on the resolution early next year. But let’s be clear, if this resolution passes, it will keep dentistry firmly lodged in the proverbial stone age; put countless people’s health at risk (especially the poor and already underprivileged); and perpetuate significant environmental destruction.
Dental schools such as the New York University College of Dentistry, which recently decided to stop recommending mercury amalgam fillings as the default route of treatment, may have to ditch such notions and return to teaching the barbaric use of neurotoxic mercury rather than modern alternatives.
ADA’s Active Effort to Avoid Pollution Control Regulation
Dental amalgam is a primitive, polluting product — an antiquated remnant from the Civil War era — which is composed of about 50 percent mercury, a well-known neurotoxin. Once released into the environment, dental mercury converts to methylmercury and contaminates fish, which are the largest dietary source of mercury in the U.S.
The environmental impact of dental mercury simply cannot be overlooked.
The chief sponsor and endorser of the APHA resolution is the American Dental Association (ADA), a former patent-holder of amalgam that represents one faction of dentistry. Known for its midnight deal-making2 — such as with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008 in avoiding pollution control regulation — the ADA appears on the verge of pulling off a similar stunt again.
Appearing at the APHA meeting last month, resolution in hand, ADA lobbyists presented a sequence of falsehoods to APHA leaders in the resolution they helped draft. The resolution claims that mercury fillings’ contribution to overall mercury pollution is “negligible” — when in reality, dentists are the number one purchaser of mercury in America for product use and the number one polluter of mercury into municipal waste water.
Will APHA, Like the ADA, Continue to Ignore the Science?
Contrary to ADA claims, a recent report from the World Health Organization3 (WHO) states that the amount of dental mercury entering the environment is “significant.” And contrary to APHA’s recommendation that “dental professionals continue the use of dental amalgam as a restorative material,” the WHO report calls for a “phasing-down” of dental amalgam use. It even says “WHO will facilitate the work for a switch in use of dental materials.” WHO noted the following three reasons for the new position:
Amalgam releases a “significant amount of mercury” into the environment, including the atmosphere, surface water, groundwater, and soil. WHO reported:
“When released from dental amalgam use into the environment through these pathways, mercury is transported globally and deposited. Mercury releases may then enter the human food chain especially via fish consumption.”
WHO determines that amalgam raises “general health concerns”: While the report acknowledged that a few dental trade groups still believe amalgam is safe for all, the WHO report reached a very different conclusion: “Amalgam has been associated with general health concerns.” The report observed:
“According to the Norwegian Dental Biomaterials Adverse Reaction Unit, the majority of cases of side-effects of dental filling materials are linked with dental amalgam.”
WHO concluded “materials alternative to dental amalgam are available” and cited studies indicating they are superior to amalgam. For example, WHO said “recent data suggest that RBCs [resin-based composites] perform equally well” as amalgam. And dental restorative materials have a higher survival rate, says WHO, citing a study finding that 95 percent of dental restorative materials and 92 percent of amalgams survive after 4 years.
In particular, WHO explained that “Alternative restorative materials of sufficient quality are available for use in the deciduous [baby] dentition of children” – the population whose developing neurological systems are most susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of dental mercury. Perhaps more important than the survival of the filling, WHO asserted that:
“Adhesive resin materials allow for less tooth destruction and, as a result, a longer survival of the tooth itself.”
The report also included mention of the known toxic effects of mercury exposure, stating:
“Mercury is highly toxic and harmful to health. Approximately 80 percent of inhaled mercury vapor is absorbed in the blood through the lungs, causing damage to lungs, kidneys and the nervous, digestive, respiratory and immune systems. Health effects from excessive mercury exposure include tremors, impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, insomnia, emotional instability, developmental deficits during fetal development, and attention deficit and developmental delays during childhood.”
What is the True Cost of Dental Amalgam?
Equally missing in the APHA resolution is any mention of amalgam’s true cost, when environmental expenses are factored. The price of amalgam is lower than its main alternative, composite, solely because the polluters, the pro-mercury dentists, are not paying for the externalized impacts they cause. As an authoritative economics study4 shows that when the environmental costs of amalgam are totaled, amalgam’s true costs are as much as $77 per filling more than composite.
In addition to the World Health Organization, a recent report created by the BIO Intelligence Service (BIO) for the European Commission5 recommends phasing out dental amalgam and mercury in button cell batteries by 2018 in order to protect the environment from continued devastating harm. According to the authors, dental amalgam is “a significant contributor to overall EU environmental emissions of mercury from human activities.” The situation is identical in the US.
The report, titled: Study on the Potential for Reducing Mercury Pollution from Dental Amalgams and Batteries6, highlights the extensive ecological harm caused by dental mercury, and the subsequent health impact on wildlife and humans:
“The current levels of mercury pollution in the EU are such that all the EU population is exposed to mercury above the natural background level and certain population groups such as high-level fish consumers, women of childbearing age and children are subject to high risk levels, principally due to their high exposure and/or high vulnerability to mercury in the form of methylmercury, which is ingested through the diet.
This presents a risk of negative impacts on health, in particular affecting the nervous system and diminishing intellectual capacity.
There are also environmental risks, for example the disturbance of microbiological activity in soils and harm to wildlife populations. The effects of mercury releases on the integrity of the ecosystem are substantial. Various species, especially eagles, loons, kingfishers, ospreys, ibises, river otters, mink and others that rely on fish for a large part of their diet, have been observed to suffer adverse health and/or behavioral effects.
Observed disorders such as effects on the muscles and nervous system, reduced or altered mating habits, ability to reproduce, raise offspring, catch food and avoid predators have been demonstrated to affect individual animal viability and overall population stability. According to calculations based on the critical load concept, more than 70 percent of the European ecosystem area is estimated to be at risk today due to mercury, with critical loads of mercury exceeded in large parts of western, central and southern Europe.”
World-Wide, Governments are Calling for the Phase Out of Amalgam
As an organization based in the United States, Consumers for Dental Choice has worked to educate its own government about dental mercury pollution and the many mercury-free alternatives to amalgam. In March of last year, their diligence paid off, as the U.S. government, in its official submission to UNEP’s mercury treaty negotiations, called for both the “eventual phase out” of amalgam and prompt “phase down” steps, including many of our recommendations, such as:
“Educating patients and parents”
“Protecting children and fetuses”
“Training of dental professionals on the environmental impacts of mercury in dental amalgams”
From a government whose device regulator (FDA) had previously refused to educate the public about amalgam’s mercury content or take any steps to protect vulnerable populations, it was a welcome – even spectacular – development for the cause of mercury-free dentistry. Other governments from around the world quickly joined the push for mercury-free dentistry, including the Arab League, the African region, the Council of Europe, and numerous other developing nations.
ADA’s Self Serving Interests Coming to Light
Despite all this progress, the ADA still succeeded in ramming the resolution through APHA, claiming that it was a ‘late breaker” issue that warranted fast tracking, overcoming objections that it be withdrawn. Opponents argued that nothing had occurred since the resolution deadline (2/15/12) to justify “late breaking” status7 — and instead the resolution should be resubmitted through the normal policy next year where it would be more fully vetted.
Objection to the resolution inside APHA was fierce, with opposition expressed at both the public hearing and the Governing Council meeting. Both the Environment, Occupational, and Maternal and Child Health sections urged a No vote. But the ADA political machine won the day, crowing afterwards that APHA resolution (that the ADA helped draft) “further vindicates the ADA’s own long-standing and scientifically based policy.”
ADA’s self-serving interests are now only beginning to come to light as more APHA members become better informed.
In addition, some believe the ADA is now using APHA’s resolution as a way to derail the global WHO’s new policy to “phase down” amalgam — and influence negotiators who are considering incorporating the WHO policy into a global legally binding treaty on mercury8 when they meet for the final time in Geneva in mid-January. We knew the World Dental Federation was determined to protect amalgam to the bitter end… let’s hope APHA doesn’t give them the “ace” they need to eliminate dental mercury from the negotiations.
Join the Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry!
APHA still has time to undo its mistake. The final decision does not come until February. Consumers for Dental Choice leads the battle for mercury-free dentistry both in the US and worldwide. Its financial needs are greater than ever, so we ask for your help! Please consider a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advocating mercury-free dentistry.
Look at any seafood guide and you’re bound to come across the occasional red flag with an ominous warning: “High in Mercury.” Scary enough, but what exactly does that mean? Just how is mercury winding up in the fish on your plate?
Mercury itself isn’t a bogeyman, as it occurs naturally at low levels in rock, soil, and water throughout the world. But about half of all mercury released into the atmosphere today comes from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, with contributions from waste incineration, mining, and other industrial activities. This mercury pollution falls directly into the ocean and other water bodies or onto land, where it can be washed into waterways. In this form, mercury poses little danger because living things can get rid of it quickly. But bacteria convert mercury as it’s carried down from the ocean surface, turning it into a highly toxic form called methylmercury.
The food chain takes it from there, as methylmercury is absorbed by phytoplankton, which are gobbled up by zooplankton, which are then feasted upon by small fish and onwards and upwards as the amount of the toxin grows in ever-accumulating quantities. The largest predatory fish in the sea, like sharks and swordfish, can have mercury concentrations in their muscles — the meat of the fish — that are 10 million times higher than those of their surrounding habitat.
Of course, the only level higher on the food chain than the largest fish is occupied by humans. And so accordingly, seafood is the source of nearly all the methylmercury that we acquire in our bodies. There’s still much to be learned about the effects of methylmercury on adults — susceptibility to mercury could be genetic, or the result of diet or stress. But there is little debate that methylmercury presents the greatest risk to fetuses, infants, and children, whose growing brains and nervous systems can be adversely affected.
So how do we reduce our exposure to mercury? The answer requires both difficult changes to the world’s energy supply and simpler consumer choices.
When it comes to energy, the good news is that, despite major pushback from the power industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to reduce 90 percent of the mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants survived a recent Senate vote. Since half of all human-generated mercury released in the United States comes from coal power plants, that’s a huge step forward towards safer fish. But the bad news is that even as the U.S. is about to choke off its mercury emissions, Asia is filling the void, because two-thirds of human-generated mercury now originates from the rapidly industrializing region. Scientists are seeing strong indications that those emissions are a major source of mercury in the North Pacific Ocean. Consider mercury just one more reason why the world should shift away from burning fossil fuels and towards renewables.
Some low-mercury options. Click for full chart (PDF).
As far as consumer choices, a new report [PDF] about fish and mercury from the Blue Ocean Institute says it best: The answer isn’t to avoid seafood, it’s to avoid mercury. Particularly for pregnant or nursing women, as well as young children, the risks of mercury are significant enough to cut out high-mercury fish from their diet. But since all fish contain at least traces of methylmercury, what fish can we eat and how much? The Food and Drug Administration mercury guidelines are confusing and their suggestions questionable, but you can take matters into your own hands and try online mercury calculators from NRDC and GotMercury.org. Or check out graphics that clearly illustrate the fish with the highest and lowest levels [PDF] of mercury or suggested monthly servings.
It turns out those red flags on seafood guides don’t just represent health warnings about mercury, but remind us how the food we eat, the energy we use, and the water we depend upon are all inextricably linked.
Peter Hanlon is a Senior Research and Policy Analyst for the GRACE Water and Energy Programs. Peter has worked for numerous organizations on issues ranging from estuarine health to watershed management, land use planning, and renewable energy.