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EMF Studies

21 December 2016

Mercury from Fillings in Your Teeth Can't Go Down Public Sewers Anymore, EPA Rules

Mercury from fillings in your teeth can’t go down public sewers anymore, EPA rules
by Greg Gordon, bellinghamherald.com, 
19 December 2016


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a rule to require dentists, whose treatment of tooth decay with mercury compounds has sent the toxic substance into public sewers for decades, to contain their discharges by early 2020.

On Friday, the day after EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the final rule, European authorities approved a draft rule that would bar dentists from using mercury compounds to fill cavities in vulnerable populations.

The actions to shield the public from dentists’ use of mercury moved governments on both sides of the Atlantic toward aligning with the goals of a 2013 treaty signed by 128 countries – the Minamata Convention. The treaty, ratified by the United States and 34 other nations, calls for phasing out products that emit mercury vapor and disposing of the toxin more safely.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug administration has yet to curb dentists’ use of mercury compounds, considered the most durable treatment for decayed teeth.

Dentists’ discharges of mercury have resulted in the release of hundreds of tons of the substance into the environment over the past several decades.

The EPA rule, culminating a regulatory battle that began more than a decade ago, is expected to lead the tens of thousands of U.S. dental offices that handle the toxin to install “separators” to catch tiny pieces of mercury-tainted waste. It also requires them to adopt best practices for disposing of the substance, the agency said. It estimated that compliance will capture more than 99 percent of the waste mercury from implants of compounds and from drilling to remove older mercury fillings.

However, the rule does not direct water treatment plants to inspect dental offices to enforce compliance, as environmental activists had sought.

It will take effect 30 days after its formal publication, which is expected shortly, with compliance required within three years.

The EPA estimated that even though about half of dentists have abandoned use of mercury fillings, the new requirement will prevent an estimated 5.1 tons of mercury from flowing each year into public sewer lines. Most dentists are routinely called on to drill out old mercury fillings, which are present in more than 180 million Americans’ teeth, according to one estimate.

McCarthy’s decision resolved a long-running lobbying struggle pitting environmentalists against the American Dental Association and a trade association representing local wastewater treatment utilities, which argued it would be too burdensome for them to enforce the rule, given the number of dental offices.

Dental offices are “the largest source of mercury in municipal wastewater, the largest consumer use and also the largest reservoir of mercury in use today,” said Michael Bender, director of the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project. He called the separators, which the EPA estimates will cost dentists about $800 per year to operate, “a practical, affordable and available technology for capturing mercury.”

Scientific research has long shown mercury to be one of Earth’s nastiest toxins. Once inhaled in even minute amounts, it moves to the bloodstream and can accumulate in the kidneys, liver and brain, where it damages the central nervous system. It has been linked to memory loss, nerve damage, autoimmune diseases, vision problems, kidney failure, depression, autism and foggy thinking. More recent research suggests it may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. It also can be lethal.

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