Thursday, June 27, 2002
MAINE VOICES: Kathleen
Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Last year the Maine Legislature
passed a historic bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Michaud and
Rep. Steven Stanley, the toughest thus far in the country,
that requires informed consent of the patient prior to the
placement of dental mercury amalgams (dental fillings).
The original bill asked for both
informed consent (all patients receiving fillings must be
told the hazards of mercury amalgams to their health and
the environment) and a ban on mercury amalgam placement in
children and pregnant and nursing women. The bill was
reworked to include only informed consent, though we
believe a ban is inevitable as the data come in on the
hazards of mercury amalgams.
MERCURY is clearly a neurotoxin and
has been implicated as an endocrine disrupter and possibly
a cause of autoimmune disorders. It is particularly
hazardous to young children and a developing fetus.
Exposure to mercury can cause devastating, irreversible
problems in a developing brain. It may also be a factor
for our older generation in the form of Alzheimer's
The mercury exposure and disposal
problems are being tackled by forbidding its use in
thermostats and switches, by eliminating mercury in
vaccines and by reducing mercury in florescent lights and
other mercury-containing products. Industry sees this
freight train of a trend.
Well, most industry - except the
Mercury arrives in a dentist's office
as a hazardous material, and must be treated as such.
Remnant mercury leaves the dentist office as hazardous
waste, and must be treated as such. But the dental
industry would have us believe that like alchemists in
days of old, wishing to turn lead to gold, the mercury in
our mouths somehow, some way, is no longer hazardous.
In a Maine Voices column May 31, we
were told by a practicing dentist that the Legislature
ignored "scientific fact" and supported
"junk science" in developing the new law. He
went on to insist that Sens. John Martin and Mike Michaud
would "not allow the American Dental Association to
provide valid information contradicting the junk science
they chose to rely on."
I'M NOT SURE what hearing and
workshops he attended, but the ADA and MDA were well
represented throughout the process and put a great deal of
pressure on the powers that be.
Sen. Michaud not only ushered through
the bill, but insisted on language for the informed
consent brochure that is much more protective of health
and the environment than had originally been written by
the Bureau of Health.
The momentum has started in Maine to
raise the awareness about the hazards, both to health and
the environment, of mercury dental amalgams. An even
stronger bill was just passed in New Hampshire. We
consider this a great victory, especially for the health
of our children.
The ADA continues to claim that the
mercury in fillings is "bound" and can cause no
harm. This is untrue. First, mercury vapor is released in
the mouth. The levels are higher every time we chew or
drink hot liquids. Gum chewers and people who grind their
teeth produce alarmingly high levels of mercury vapor. Our
bodies absorb about 90 percent of this vapor.
THE DENTAL industry claims the levels
in mercury amalgams are not high enough to be of concern.
Again, this is simply not true. We know to be concerned
about breaking a single thermometer (a study was done in
New York City that showed dangerously high mercury levels
in a home many years after a thermometer had broken in a
We should be concerned about
producing a constant flow of mercury vapor that is
immediately absorbed into our bodies. Mercury vapor
readily passes through both the brain and placental
barriers. This can be devastating to a developing brain.
Several countries have put
restrictions on mercury amalgams for pregnant women and
for young children.
The mercury that is discharged from
dental offices enters our lakes, rivers, streams and
oceans and there it methylates. When mercury methylates it
becomes extremely toxic. While mercury vapor is extremely
toxic when inhaled, methylmercury is extremely toxic when
Dental offices use 40 to 60 tons of
mercury every year and release tons of mercury into our
environment. The mercury problem will not go away without
taking clear measures.
Kathleen McGee (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
of Bowdoinham is director of the Maine Toxics Action