2007 Environmental Risks of and Regulatory Response to Mercury Dental Fillings


November 14, 2007, the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing entitled “Environmental Risks of and Regulatory Response to Mercury Dental Fillings.” The purpose of the hearing is to examine actions undertaken by EPA and other stakeholders to improve measurement of and limit mercury pollution from dental sources.


2007 – 11 Environmental Risks of and Regulatory Response to Mercury Dental Fillings

MERCURY: Kucinich’s panel to weight dangers of dental fillings

November 13, 2007

Russell J. Dinnage


Getting cavities and having them filled at the dentist may contribute more than 1,000 tons of highly toxic methyl mercury to the environment per year, according to the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

The committee’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee holds a hearing tomorrow on how dental mercury amalgam, which is used in tooth fillings, affects the environment. Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) intends to ask U.S. EPA and Food and Drug Administration officials about what the agencies are doing on the regulatory end to stem the flow of wastewater discharges from dentist’s offices nationwide that “may have a significant negative effect on the environment,” the subcommittee said.

According to the subcommittee, EPA’s only dental mercury-specific program is an educational effort to encourage new dentists to use equipment to prevent mercury from entering their wastewater. FDA regulates mercury dental devices, but the agency has never conducted an environmental assessment of the use of dental mercury amalgam as prescribed by law.

“Dental offices are the third-largest user of mercury in the United States,” the subcommittee said in a statement. “Sludge, the mercury-contaminated byproduct of municipal sewage treatment plants, is often incinerated, causing the formation of ‘methyl mercury,’ the most toxic and dangerous form of mercury.”

Mercury Policy Project executive director Michael Bender is set to testify before the subcommittee against the continued use of the toxic metal as a tooth filling.

According to Bender, legislative and regulatory efforts in New England have seen 75 percent of dentists there install amalgam separators in their office water systems, which have contributed to a 50 percent reduction in mercury loading in the Massachusetts watershed alone.

“Testimony will show that dental mercury air emissions are at least five times higher than recent EPA estimates and a significant amount of that has the potential to end up in fish,” Bender said. “It’s time for the American Dental Association to adopt a clean hands policy and stop polluting America’s dinner plates.”

Schedule: The House Oversight Domestic Policy Subcommittee hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow in 2154 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Ephraim King, EPA Office of Water; Norris Alderson, FDA Office of Science and Health Coordination; Ray Clark, Clark Group LLC senior partner; Bruce Terris, Terris, Pravlik & Millian LLP partner; C. Mark Smith, New England Governor’s Conference Mercury Task Force co-chair; Michael Bender, Mercury Policy Project executive director; and Rod Mackert, Medical College of Georgia dentist and professor.

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