Two More Victories Against Mercury Amalgam

no mercuryThere’s been some significant progress recently in the fight against dental amalgam – the stuff used to make “silver” fillings. As you may (or may not) know, those “silver” fillings are actually about 50% mercury and still widely used in dentistry today.

Mercury, of course, is a potent neurotoxin. And it’s also why the European Union has decided to ban amalgam fillings in kids under 15, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women. The agreement goes into effect on July 1, 2018.

Additionally, it requires each member nation to create a plan for reducing amalgam use toward the ultimate goal of a total phase out.

“The children of Europe have won,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice,, and president of the World Alliance of Mercury-Free Dentistry, “The next generation of European will be safe from mercury dental fillings.”

This new regulation is a crucial step toward a mercury-free future. The EU, after all, is the world’s largest user of dental mercury, going through nearly 100 tons each year.

But it’s also just a partial victory. More needs to be done to protect everyone from chronic exposure to this toxin. Education is a big part of it. Here in the US, most people are still unaware that mercury is the main component of “silver” fillings. They don’t realize there’s cause for concern. They inherently trust their dentist, and most dentists who place amalgams never discuss what they’re made of.

Importantly, amalgam poses risks to far more than just the patient. Dental mercury is also an enormous environmental pollutant – which is why we were thrilled to hear that the EPA finalized its new rule for reducing mercury discharges from dental offices.

Now, all offices that handle dental mercury must have amalgam separators that are up to standard. They work by using gravity to collect solid waste so it can be properly disposed and out of the sewer system. If an office already has separators but they’re not up to standard, the devices must be replaced. All practices must comply by the end of 2019.

“Amalgam separators,” according to the EPA,

are a practical, affordable and readily available technology for capturing mercury and other metals before they are discharged into sewers that drain to POTWs [publicly owned treatment works]. Once captured by a separator, mercury can be recycled.

EPA expects compliance with this final rule will annually reduce the discharge of mercury by 5.1 tons as well as 5.3 tons of other metals found in waste dental amalgam to POTWs.

Offices are also required to collect and recycle scrap amalgam, as well as clean all chairside traps with non-bleach, non-chlorine cleanser to prevent the release of mercury.

It’s estimated that 40% of dental offices already have separators installed due to personal choice or local regulation. But this new rule will bring more than 100,000 US dental offices into compliance.

This is great news for the environment, but again, it’s a partial victory. As long as amalgam is placed in mouths, mercury will still be getting into the environment by way of human waste, cremations, burials, and other avenues. As long as mercury is placed in mouths, it remains a threat to personal, public, and environmental health alike.

We deserve a mercury-free future.

New EPA Rule Aims to Keep Dental Mercury Out of the Environment

no dental mercury amalgamReady for some good news?

At long last, the EPA has proposed its rule to limit mercury discharges from dental offices. The agency estimates that it will prevent 8.8 tons of metal – half of which is mercury – from from polluting our water supply.

This is a very big deal, for there are about 160,000 dentists in the US who either use or remove amalgam, “almost all of whom discharge their wastewater exclusively to [Publicly Owned Treatment Works].”

Studies show about half the mercury that enters Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) comes from dental offices. Mercury from amalgam can then make its way into the environment in a number of ways, including through discharge to water bodies. Contact with some microorganisms can help create methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in fish, shellfish and fish-eating animals.

That would include us. It’s one way those of us who never get a so-called “silver” filling are affected by dental mercury, as well. By reducing mercury discharges, we all win.

So how does the EPA propose we put an end to this pollution? Dentists would be required to use amalgam separators, a technology that catches and traps the mercury before it goes down the drain. (Of course, if it’s still being put in your teeth…) Twelve states already mandate them. We’ve used them in our office for years.

“This is a common sense rule that calls for capturing mercury at a relatively low cost before it is dispersed into the POTW,” said Kenneth J. Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “The rule would strengthen human health protection by requiring removals based on the use of a technology and practices that approximately 40 percent of dentists across the country already employ thanks to the ADA and our state and local partners.”

Even so, we still have a lot of work to do to create a mercury-free future. Even with the new rule, mercury amalgams will still exist. Untold numbers are already in the mouths of patients. Some dentists continue to place them. Some patients still agree to them.

More, as Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice notes,

Separators cannot stop dental mercury from reaching the environment via other pathways, such as the cremation of human bodies containing amalgam. So what’s the best way to stop dental mercury pollution? Stop using mercury amalgam dental fillings.

If you haven’t already done so, sign the Consumer for Dental Choice’s petition that calls on Secretary of State John Kerry to help bring the FDA in line with State Department policy now that the US has signed the global mercury treaty known as the Minamata Convention. Please take a moment to sign and share it through social media or email. The petition is available here.