Mercury-Dental: Reasons for ChangePrint Friendly Page
Many reasons exist for dentists to reduce the use and release of mercury from dental facilities, including the following:
Reduced risk of exposure to mercury's toxic effects for patients, dental employees and dentists. Elemental mercury vaporizes at room temperature and can be inhaled by people who come in contact with the vapors. Mercury can affect the kidneys, red blood cells and the central nervous system. Fetuses and young children are at particular risk for the neurotoxic effects of mercury exposure since their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
Reduced impact on public health. Exposure of the general public to mercury's toxic effects occurs primarily by the ingestion of fish that have been contaminated with mercury. Approximately 95% of the mercury found in fish is in the form of methylmercury, a particularly toxic form of mercury. Fish can be contaminated with mercury due to emissions from coal-fired power plants, municipal waste incinerators and through discharge of mercury to ground or surface water. If a dentist's mercury waste is disposed of in the regular trash and the trash is incinerated; this contributes to mercury emissions from the municipal waste incinerator. If a dentist's mercury waste is flushed down the drain, the mercury ends up in the wastewater treatment facility's sludge which may be incinerated and contribute to mercury emissions from the sludge incinerator. If the regular trash or the sludge is landfilled instead of incinerated, some studies have shown the mercury may be emitted from the landfill by volatilization and by conversion to methylmercury.
Reduced impact on the environment. Mercury poses health risks to wildlife that eat contaminated fish. Adverse effects in exposed wildlife may include death, reduced reproductive success, impaired growth and development, and behavioral abnormalities. Species that are more likely to be at risk for mercury exposure from fish consumption include top-level avian and mammalian predators, such as eagles, loons, osprey, mink, and otter.
Reduced liability. Dentists can remove any liability associated with the use of mercury by going mercury-free. Other dentists have done this successfully.
Reduced concern about meeting wastewater requirements. Dentists can reduce their use of mercury and proactively adopt best management practices for mercury so that they are able to more easily meet wastewater requirements.
Enhanced public image. Dentists can choose to go mercury-free or adopt best management practices and advertise that they have done this in order to increase public image.
Source: NESCAUM (Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management) et. al., "Northeast States and Eastern Canadian Provinces: Mercury Study: A Framework for Action," February 1998.