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Dr. Blanche Grube, Dr. Nicola Pirrone, who was awarded the Kathryn R. Mahaffey Lifetime Achievement Award in Mercury Research, and Anita Tibau (from left). (Photograph by Anita Tibau)
0 Comments Aug 16, 2017 | News Americas

ICMGP conference brings dental mercury into the fold

Post a comment by Anita Vazquez Tibau

Since the conclusion of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, along with the ratification of the treaty by 70 countries to date, dental mercury has increasingly become a subject that is no longer being ignored by the scientific community as a source of human exposure and environmental contamination.

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Anita Vazquez Tibau Anita Vazquez Tibau

At the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) conference held in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S., from July 16 to 21, two posters were presented on dental mercury: the “Protocol for the safe removal of dental mercury—Protecting the patient and the environment,” by Dr. Blanche Grube and Anita Tibau; and “What is the risk? Dental amalgam, mercury exposure, and human health risks throughout the life span,” by Dr. John Kall, Amanda Just and Dr. Michael Aschner. These posters, along with many oral sessions presented throughout the week, discussed the role of mercury in the dental industry and how it is contributing to global human exposure and environmental pollution.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), dental mercury represents over 20 percent of global mercury consumption in products. Through dental clinics, wastewater, human waste, land disposal, crematoriums, burial and even mercury recycling, these dental fillings continue to contaminate long after they are removed from the patient. UNEP estimates the majority of dental mercury—about two-thirds—is eventually released into the environment. A poster by Katherine McGowan et al., titled “Identification and characterization of a potential crematorium mercury emission source,” reported that UNEP has estimated that 3.6 tons may be emitted into the atmosphere yearly through cremation.

Keynote speaker Gina McCarthy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator under President Barack Obama, commented on the long process of mandating amalgam separators in the dental industry and that it was one of the last actions of the previous administration. She noted that public health and the environment are critically interconnected. Praising the EPA, M.A.R.S. Bio-Med President Michael Darcy, who also attended the conference, educated participants on amalgam separators, the EPA ruling on separators, and wastewater treatment plant contamination from dental amalgam.

Also discussed was the role dental amalgam plays in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) worldwide, along with monitoring and tracking of dental mercury flow into countries as a way to determine usage. East African countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have implemented a phase-down of dental mercury. These countries are following supply and trade patterns, which is important owing to ASGM activities in that region. According to the EPA, ASGM is the largest source of anthropogenic mercury emissions at 37 percent, followed by coal combustion at 24 percent.

With over 1,000 attendees from around the globe, from academia to policymakers, the conference made it clear that more and more information is being made available on how dental mercury is affecting human health and the environment. It is vitally important to educate countries on the safe removal of dental mercury, how to handle dental mercury waste, and how to utilize nonmercury fillings effectively. These steps are critical to facilitate early implementation of the Minamata Convention.

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