Idea: Reduce Mercury Pollution

Editor's Note: On February 6, we asked BlueOregon readers to suggest progressive ideas that the next Oregon Legislature should enact. Over the next several weeks, we'll post some of these ideas here - and ask you to discuss them. Good idea? Bad idea? Any suggestions?

From "Sandy D":

Ban all mercury containing products with a carefully vetted list of exceptions. Mercury-based dental fillings should NOT be one of the exceptions. While middle class and well-to-do don't get many "silver" fillings anymore, it is all that poor people get.

Mandate mercury-amalgam separators in all dental offices. They catch 95-99% of the mercury going through water lines into the waste treatment plant. Every jurisdiction that has done this has had a substantial decline in mercury content in waste treatment plants (up to 90%).

Ban mercury based (50% elemental mercury - about 1/2 gram for EACH filling) dental fillings. Every bit of it ends up in the environment: cremation (bodies with mercury fillings); burial (might be a couple hundred or even a couple of hundred years for the coffin and all the rest to "go back to the earth," but it will.

Living human bodies put out about 50 micrograms of mercury per day (from mercury amalgams) that go into waste treatment plants or into septic tanks. [Biosolids from waste treatment plants are either buried or spread on croplands as fertilizer. The water effluent from the waste treatment plant containes methylated mercury. This is what is found in fish.]

Dental waste (pulled teeth) get incinerated or buried. More mercury in the environment. More than 30% of dentists are mercury-free, so there are obviously less toxic alternatives available. It is still used because it is cheap and easy. Lead might be even cheaper but people understand how toxic lead is. Well, mercury is 40 times more toxic. That is right, 40 times more toxic.


[If you have your own original progressive idea to propose, do it here: "There oughta be a law."]

  • (Show?)

    Before anyone goes further, I think it would be best for people to read the article on Quackwatch debunking this.

    To quote:

    "Mercury is found in the earth's crust and is ubiquitous in the environment. Thus, even without amalgam fillings, everyone has small but measurable blood and urine levels. Amalgam fillings raise these levels slightly, but this has no clinical significance.

    The legal limit of safe mercury exposure for industrial workers is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air for 8 hours per day and 50 weeks per year. Exposure at this level will produce urine mercury levels of about 135 micrograms per liter. These levels are much higher than those in the general public but produce no symptoms and are considered safe.

    Most people without fillings have a maximum of 5-10 micrograms per liter of urine. Most practicing dentists have levels below 10 micrograms per liter, even though they are exposed to mercury vapor when placing or removing amalgam filings and typically have amalgams in their own teeth. Thus, even with that exposure, the maximum levels found in dentists are only twice those of their patients—and most dentists are have the same levels as most patients. These are far below the levels known to affect health, even in a minor way.

    Progressives don't need our version of faith-based health care. We need to be firmly grounded in real science.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    There really is no level of safe mercury exposure. The fact that we are all exposed to some natually in the environment doesn't change that. Because mercury concentrates as it moves through the food chain, even the small amounts used by dentist finding their way into the environment is a problem. So we need to take common sense measures such as those suggested to reduce dentists contribution.

    Air pollution is one of the major sources of mercury in fish. And cremating bodies with dental fillings still present releases a significant amount of mercury into the environment. There are two ways to deal with that and we ought to be looking at both. One is to require removal of dental fillings before cremation. The other is to reduce the use of mercury amalgam fillings.

    Whether mercury-amalgam fillings are safe is now a matter of controversy. Dentists have used amalgam for 100 years and say they are safe. But there is some recent evidence that they may be wrong. The emotional response from some parts of the dental community has not been reassuring that they are evaluating the new evidence with anything approaching an open mind.

    We should all be careful of faith-based health care. People switching to "cholestrol-free" margarine did not turn out to be such a great idea.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Mercury is a recognized toxic heavy metal. That is why EPA suggests limiting consumption of many high-on-the-food-chain fish which bioaccumulate mercury. The ADS has a vested interest in limiting concern about mercury. As to Quackwatch and its parent organization, the National Council Against Health Fraud, check out these links.

    quackwatch busted

    American Chiropractic Association

    Center for Media & Democracy

  • Gordie (unverified)

    One of the bigger point sources of mercury pollution is evaporates from the dead's fillings. But, removing the fillings prior to cremation would offer a number of difficulties in itself. Thus, maybe it would make sense to pass tighter laws on crematories' emissions.

  • (Show?)

    There really is no level of safe mercury exposure.

    Care to cite any scientific studies that back up that assertion? There are all sorts of naturally sourced trace toxins in our bodies, from mercury and arsenic, to the tannic acid we drink in tea. They all have a minimum safe exposure level, because if they didn't, we'd all be dead. Humans bodies have evolved over the millenia to handle them.

    The real problem is with modern artificial toxins that have no equivalent in the natural world. To those, we're mostly defenseless. (Although, even then, there is usually some minimal exposure level - a few molecules usually can't do enough harm for us to notice.)

    Again, there is big money in quackery - scaring people into paying for dubious treatments to cure things that pose no measurable risk. This is why you see these fad-scares from time to time. (Remember the aluminum poisoning scare? The one that took aluminum cookware off the market? Aluminum is one of the most common elements in the ecosystem.)

    Progressives should not be suckered. We are the "Reality Based Community", and we are naturally skeptical of economically or politically motivated appeals to unreasoning fear.

    p.s. Tom Civiletti's link to "" is crowing about some idiot court in California siding with homeopathic "medicine" makers in a court case against quackwatch. Given that homeopathy has as much acceptance in the medical community as "intelligent design", this hardly proves anything beyond what it says about Mr. Civiletti.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Care to cite any scientific studies that back up that assertion?,/i>

    I am not going to get in a silly debate with an ideologue over the question. If you want to believe quackwatch go right ahead.

    They all have a minimum safe exposure level, because if they didn't, we'd all be dead.

    I guess that proves it. We will all die sometime, that must be the reason.

    For those of us who are concerned about what happens in the meantime mercury, aluminum, copper and a variety of other metals in the environment are toxic. Keeping to a miminum the levels we are unnecessarily exposed to is just common sense.

    Mercury, in particular, is highly toxic which is why there are advisories for fish eaten from even some of the cleanest lakes in the United States.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    lets see if I can get rid of the italics. There - did that do it?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Steven Maurer,

    A majority of Americans use alternative health approaches not accepted by ther "medical community." Homeopathy is one of them. I've not used it myself, but it is an accepted approach among naturopaths, in whom I have more trust than I do medical doctors.

    Your reasoning about natural toxics is faulty. A material that holds risk at any dose does not necessarily kill everyone exposed. We are all exposed to many toxics, some as unavoidable parts of the natural environment, some as the result of technology. Each carries a risk, which can be quantified when considering a population. So, level x of toxic M would result in y deaths/diseases per million persons. We cannot easily reduce our exposure to natural and ubiquitous toxics, but we can reduce our exposure to toxics put into the environment by man. Most mercury is safely locked in the earth's crust until mining release it. Sloppy use spreads this around the environment, where it bioaccumulates in food and us. The fact that there is some mercury in the bioshere naturally does NOT make it safe, and does not excuse the introduction of more mercury by human action.

    Before you write about science, I suggest you learn some.

  • W. Bruce Anderholt II (unverified)

    Sandy D:

    Great suggestion, but if you're going to mandate mercury-amalgam separators, why not offer a tax credit to the dentists for the full purchase price of the equipment?

    It's serving the public good, not the dentist's bottom line. Otherwise, you'll force the dentists to increase the prices they charge their patients.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Otherwise, you'll force the dentists to increase the prices they charge their patients.

    And why is having patients pay the cost bad? Is there some reason they shouldn't pay it and someone else should? How is this different than requiring people to have their garbage collected or to collect medical waste separately?

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