could hurt environment
By Marjory Sherman
Monday, June 24, 2002
While the debate over whether mercury fillings pose a
health risk remains unresolved, there is more widespread
worry about harm to the environment when mercury from old
fillings reaches the waste stream.
"The only real issue in dental offices with regard
to mercury is when we remove a silver filling, we grind
out an old silver filling, the amalgam is sucked down into
the waste water system and there is some evidence that the
mercury is released in the ground water,'' said Methuen
dentist Dr. Thomas Torrisi.
According to Mark E. Stone, researcher at the Naval
Dental Research Institute in Great Lakes, Ill., elemental
mercury in amalgams can become methylmercury, or a more
dangerous form, when it is surrounded by bacteria,
especially from sediment in the ground water.
Methylmercury is known to accumulate in fish and move
up the biodiversity chain. People in the Merrimack Valley
have already been warned against eating fish caught in
local waterways, since many of those tested exhibited high
levels of mercury.
In a report out this month, Health Care Without Harm
and other groups charges that dentists are the third
largest users of mercury in the country and the single
largest polluter of mercury to the nation's waste water
In the process of restoring teeth, dentists use
approximately 40 metric tons of mercury each year, most of
which is released directly into the environment, said Bill
Ravenisi of Health Care Without Harm.
"While many other industries, including hospitals,
are phasing out the use of mercury products, dentists
continue to use large amounts of mercury and dispose of it
improperly. We call on American Dental Association and on
dentists everywhere to pledge to stop polluting our
environment and endangering our health,'' he said.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is working
with the Massachusetts Dental Society to find appropriate
machinery for all 4,400 dentists in Massachusetts to use
to separate amalgams from the waste stream before it goes
into the water supply.
"We're not taking a position on whether mercury in
amalgams is safe or not. Our concern is just what happens
when it gets into the environment and keeping it out of
the environment,'' said Peter Nugent of the Massachusetts
Department of Environmental Protection.
In New Hampshire earlier this month, Gov. Jeanne
Shaheen signed into law a bill that will require dentists
in the state starting Jan. 1 to separate mercury from
their waste flow as well as provide their patients
information about the debate over the safety of dental
amalgams containing mercury.