HealthCare Without Harm
While there has been considerable
public debate about the potential health effects of mercury fillings,
little attention has been focused thus far on the disposal of
waste dental mercury. Dental clinics remain
largely unregulated for mercury disposal and extracted amalgam
materials are often rinsed down the drain, usually to a municipal
wastewater system (or septic system), deposited in biomedical
waste con-tainers destined for waste incineration, or placed
By far, the largest single contributor of mercury to wastewater is from dental offices. While most other anthropogenic mercury usesand their subsequent releaseshave declined by 80 percent or more since the 1980s, this has not been the case in the dental sector. Today, dentists are the third largest user of mercury in the United States, consuming over 20 percent of the estimated 200 metric tons used in 2001or over 40 metric tons of mercury with most eventually released into the environment.
Another significant factor is that the influential American Dental Association (ADA), as well as many state dental associations, has refrained from promoting, and even opposed mercury reduction efforts.
Clearly, the time has come for U.S. dental associations as other health care industry associations are already doingto embrace the fundamental credo of first do no harm, by taking responsibility to reduce amalgam use and mercury pollution.
ADAs Lack of Support for
Despite overwhelming evidence
to the contrary, the ADA presents conflicting and often contradictory
statements about the nature of amalgams, at times claiming that
their members make only a small contribution to mercury
in dental wastewater, but other times remaining completely
silent on the question of environmental impacts, such as in its
Statement on Dental Amalgam.
The ADA goes so far as to argue that amalgamated mercury waste poses no environmental risk, asserting that it is a scientific fact that mercury in dental amalgam chemically combines with other ingredients, including silver, to form a biologically inactive substance.
Finally, ADA, state dental
associations and their members consistently refer to amalgams
as silver fillings even though, on average, the silver
actually only comprises 25 percent of an amalgam filling.
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