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Attorney on other end of dental lawsuit


By Tom Harrigan
Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES -- An attorney who has taken the American Dental Association to court in several states over the amount of mercury used in fillings was the target of a defamation lawsuit filed Tuesday by the organization.

    Shawn Khorrami is involved in lawsuits in California, Ohio, Maryland and Georgia against the ADA, its state affiliates and others for allegedly endorsing amalgam filling material with a high content of mercury compounds.

    The Chicago-based ADA, with 141,000 members, is accusing him of conducting an "orchestrated campaign of lies and distortion to promote himself and his law firm."

    The organization wants Khorrami to stop the action as well as pay punitive and compensatory damages.

    Khorrami called the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, "a desperate attempt on the part of the ADA to further conceal the truth from the public."

    "We stand firmly by the allegations made in our lawsuits: The ADA has withheld information about the dangers of mercury dental fillings from the American public. Our cases brought this issue to light and now the ADA is responding with this baseless complaint. This is similar to the smear tactics used by the tobacco industry when they were challenged," Khorrami said in a statement.

    Dental activists say what are commonly called silver fillings actually contain about 25 percent silver by weight and about 50 percent mercury. Mercury exposure can cause cancer, birth defects and nerve damage. But scientific studies on the effects of mercury in amalgam -- the term referring to alloys of mercury -- have been largely inconclusive.

    Amalgam fillings cost about half as much as other fillings, including plastic and porcelain, and last longer.

    The most recent lawsuit handled by Khorrami, filed in Georgia last month, seeks damages that could exceed $100 million. It claims mercury from dental fillings, vaccine preservatives and power plants with emissions that contain mercury caused or worsened the conditions of nine autistic children.

    The ADA lawsuit said Khorrami has wrongly accused the organization of defrauding and endangering the public and of pressuring dentists to use amalgam fillings because the ADA has a vested economic interest in the material.

    The ADA "has no financial (or other economic) stake in dental amalgam or the use of mercury," the organization said in its complaint.

    Khorrami said Tuesday the ADA receives fees for its seal of approval on material used in dentistry.

    On the Web:

    American Dental Association: http://www.ada.org

    Attorney Shawn Khorrami: http://www.khorrami.com


A 'campaign of lies'
ADA sues 'self-promoting' L.A. lawyer for defamation

By James Berry


A Los Angeles attorney who notes on his own Web site that he "has been extensively involved in [amalgam] litigation with the American Dental Association" has promoted himself and his law practice through a campaign of "lies and distortion" against the ADA, the Association alleges in a defamation suit filed May 14.

Attorney Shawn Khorrami has used news releases and his Web site to spread "false, defamatory and malicious accusations" that the ADA is "defrauding and endangering the lives of the American public" by supporting the use of dental amalgam restorations, the ADA says in its civil complaint, filed in Los Angeles U.S. District Court, Central District of California.

The Association has requested a jury trial and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. ADA officers and trustees authorized the lawsuit at their April meeting.

In a statement on the suit, ADA President D. Gregory Chadwick said the Association could not stand idly by and allow Mr. Khorrami to "impugn the reputation of the ADA" in an effort to "erode the public trust that we have built through more than 140 years of caring for the nation's oral health."

Dr. Chadwick said the ADA welcomes "fair and honest debate" on all aspects of dental care, but cannot tolerate "libelous, unwarranted attacks."

Among other allegations, the complaint says Mr. Khorrami has accused the ADA of exerting "undue and unfair pressure" on dentists to continue using amalgam because the Association has a "vested economic interest" in the material.

In truth, the ADA "has no financial (or other economic) stake in dental amalgam or the use of mercury," the Association says in its complaint. It says the defendant's "self-promoting campaign of lies and distortion targeting the ADA is based on defamatory statements that Khorrami published with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity."

The Association, notes the complaint, has filed suit "to vindicate its reputation" and to stop the defendant's "campaign of lies."

The ADA says Mr. Khorrami is well aware that many leading scientific and consumer organizations, independent of the Association, have attested to the safety of dental amalgam. Findings from six of those organizations are cited in the ADA's complaint (see related story).

Dr. James B. Bramson, ADA executive director, notes that amalgam is just one of a wide range of dental materials that the Association evaluates to help dentists and patients choose safe and effective treatments.

Added Dr. Bramson, "The ADA is a strong proponent of choice, with patients and their dentists discussing the full range of treatment options, including filling materials, and together deciding what is clinically appropriate."

Thanks to the ADA's efforts in education, research and professionalism, he said, Americans enjoy the highest standard of oral health care in the world.

"A lot of good people worked hard to achieve this standard, and to build and maintain the ADA's good name," said the executive director. "We will not capitulate to the calculated, self-promotional aims of the defendant. We will protect the good name of the ADA from such unwarranted, malicious assaults."

The complete text of the complaint is available online.

Mercury Ban Promotes Lawsuits, Not Health

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Steven Milloy


Junk science has united quite the political odd couple - Reps. Diane Watson, D-Calif., and Dan Burton, R-Ind. They recently co-sponsored a bill to end the use of mercury in dental fillings.

The bill would: ban dental amalgam containing mercury from children under 18 and pregnant and lactating women; require dentists to warn patients that mercury is "highly toxic" and poses "health risks"; and phase out mercury amalgam by 2007.

Rep. Watson, a Congressional Black Caucus member from Watts who claims to be "chemically sensitive," has targeted mercury-containing dental amalgam since CBS’ 60 Minutes spotlighted the scare in December 1990.

Rep. Burton, the anti-Clinton lightning rod, only recently converted to anti-mercury-ism. Burton blames thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines, for causing his grandson’s autism.

Also in on the mercury scare are - who else - unscrupulous personal injury lawyers. Class action lawsuits have been filed against the American Dental Association and the California and Maryland state dental associations seeking the return of monies paid for mercury-containing fillings - the great majority of fillings ever done.

Lawsuits alleging thimerosal causes autism also have been filed against vaccine manufacturers.

As to mercury in dental fillings, the lawsuits are among the best evidence that mercury in amalgam is harmless. Though the complaints allege that mercury-containing amalgam is harmful, they contain no specific allegations of harm to anyone.

This is hardly surprising.

Mercury has been a major ingredient of dental amalgam (35-42 percent) for more than 150 years. No other filling material has been proven to be safer, more durable and more cost-effective.

The National Institutes of Health reports only about 100 documented cases of allergy to mercury mentioned in the scientific literature since 1906 - despite billions of uses of mercury amalgam and tens of millions more of thimerosal-containing vaccines.

Mercury can have toxic effects on the nervous system - but only at sufficiently high exposures. As is the basic rule in toxicology, it is the dose that makes the poison. Paracelsus, the father of this principle, successfully used this principle - and mercury - to treat syphilis in the 16th century.

Fillings containing mercury typically emit about 1-3 millionths of a gram (micrograms) per day. An individual might be unavoidably exposed to another 5-6 micrograms of mercury through food, water and air. Such exposures are well below the World Health Organization’s "acceptable daily intake" for mercury, about 30 micrograms per day.

Keep in mind that the ADI is not a "safety" level; it’s a level set by regulatory agencies that is anywhere from tens to thousands of times below dose levels reported to cause biological effects in animal experiments. The ADI is set well below effect levels to provide a wide margin of safety for potential exposures.

Amalgam expert Dr. Rod Mackert says even the most sensitive individual would need about 450 fillings before exhibiting even slight symptoms of mercury toxicity.

Finally, even the hyper-cautious Food and Drug Administration concluded in March, 2002, that "No valid scientific evidence has ever shown that amalgams cause harm to patients with dental restorations, except in the rare case of allergy."

But why let a lack of factual support get in the way of a feel-good law and a chance at the lawsuit jackpot?

Rep. Burton’s anti-mercury rationale and the vaccine-related lawsuits are similarly deficient.

It’s true many children may have been exposed to relatively high levels of mercury through vaccines preserved with thimerosal. Even so, there’s no evidence these exposures harmed any child - a point reaffirmed by FDA researchers in a May 2001 article in the journal Pediatrics.

Moreover, no one knows what causes autism. A National Institutes of Health working group concluded in 1995 that autism likely was mostly genetic in origin. No evidence indicates that late-pregnancy or after-birth events - including extensively studied mass mercury poisonings - are associated with autism.

Burton’s desperate rush to blame an after-birth event for causing autism isn’t unusual.

Autistic behavior becomes apparent as children progress from saying a few words to generating more complex language, at ages of 16-36 months. Parents whose children "turn" autistic often erroneously associate the onset of autistic behavior with some contemporaneous event such as vaccination.

But public alarm about vaccine safety can be a public health problem. Outbreaks of measles, for example, occurred in the U.K. and Ireland where many worried parents shunned the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Instead of filling our minds with fear and the U.S. Code with needless laws (and our courtrooms with meritless lawsuits), Reps. Watson and Burton and the personal injury lawyers should fill themselves, as appropriate, with facts and scruples.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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