WICHITA - Dentists Drilled Over Rising Mercury Levels

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Dentists drilled over rising mercury levels

Wichita officials suggest silver teeth fillings, which contain mercury, threaten to pollute the Arkansas River and taint fish.

By Jean Hays The Wichita Eagle March 19, 2000

Next time you visit the dentist to have a filling replaced, expect more fuss and possibly more expense to save the environment.

Old silver amalgam fillings contain mercury.

The amount of mercury being washed down the dentists' drains is too high, according to the city of Wichita, which has been sampling water in sewer lines downstream of dentists' offices.

It's so high, the city is worried the mercury will pollute the Arkansas River, cause health problems for the people who eat fish from the river and get the city in trouble with the federal Environment Protection Agency.

As a dose of preventive medicine, the city is contacting 200 dentists and asking them to voluntarily cut in half the amount of mercury that washes down their drains, through the city's sewage treatment plant and into the river.

If the dentists don't voluntarily reduce mercury levels, they could face costly regulations and even fines in five to six years, said Becky Gagnon, the city's industrial pre-treatment director.

"On a personal note I see that this is greatly needed," said Marianne Lee, one of many dental professionals who has met with the city. She added that the program, which will cost time and money, really didn't sound all that voluntary.

"I don't see that we have a choice," she said.

For decades, mercury has been used in silver amalgam fillings. Many dentists have switched to less toxic materials to fill cavities, but some still use mercury.

It is said to be stable as long as it is locked inside the filling.

The problem arises not when the cavities are filled, but when the fillings come loose and need to be removed. The tiny bits of mercury drilled out of a patient's mouth collect in the traps of chairside sinks or are suctioned out and flushed down the drain.

Since the sewage treatment plant is unable to remove mercury, the metal flows into the river along with the rest of the treated wastewater.

The city is still studying exactly what it wants dentists to do. They may be able to attack the problem by frequently replacing filters in chairside sinks or suction equipment, or they may be asked to spend up to $1,500 a year on equipment to filter mercury out of their wastewater, a move that could add about $2 to the cost of getting a filling replaced.

The average dentist's office replaces about 15 to 20 fillings a week, which produces about a pound of mercury a year.

That's not much, but mercury is so toxic it doesn't take much to raise alarms, Gagnon said.

A gram -- enough for about two fillings -- can contaminate a 22-acre lake to point the fish aren't safe to eat, she said.

Wichita is not alone in its scrutiny of dentists.

Duluth, Minn., has banned the use of mercury fillings. Seattle also is asking dentists to voluntarily reduce the amount of mercury sent down the drain.

More cities are expected to take action as the EPA encourages states to reduce the amount of mercury found in rivers and streams.

The main health threat, the agency says, comes from eating contaminated fish.

In waterways, mercury reacts with bacteria that changes it to its most toxic form, mythlmercury. It accumulates in plankton, which is eaten by tiny fish, which are eaten by bigger fish, and eventually by humans.

Mercury attacks the nervous system in adults. Those most vulnerable are unborn babies whose mothers eat contaminated fish. Exposure can affect the babies' developing nervous system and lead to delays in walking and talking.

About 40 states have warned residents to limit consumption of fish from certain lakes or rivers because of mercury poisoning.

Kansas has not issued any health advisories yet, but the amount of mercury found in the state's fish is steadily increasing, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Jean Hays writes about the environment. Reach her at 268-6557 or jhays@wichitaeagle.com.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 19, 2000


The main point:

DON'T get your teeth filled with amalgam fillings.

-- Rick (rick7@postmark.net), March 20, 2000.

Rick, you said it. Mercury is the single most toxic element on the planet, so where did the brilliant ones of yesterday decide to put it?? In our mouths, of course. As someone recently diagnosed with MS, I've learned alot about mercury, although most dentists still follow the ADA party line, and claim no connection to diseases, also the National Multiple Sclerosis Society claims no PROVEN connection, but I'm not so sure. When I get the money, I intend to replace all my old fillings. The removal process can be dangerous itself, unless done by someone who really knows about this. There are several books about this subject now, including, "It's All in Your Head," by Hal Huggins. Think about it. MS has only been around for about 150 years, from what I've read.

The thing that bothers me about this story, though, is that with so many reports of this type, they're only concerned about the potential danger to humans. As though the lifeforms in the water don't matter in their own right. Stupid humans still don't see that we're just ONE link in an enormous chain, which works as a whole to keep all life forms sustained.

That's why I'm...

-- (Miss Ann@th.rope), March 22, 2000.

Oops. In my haste and late-night laziness, it appears I may be declaring that MS and other auto-immune diseases are definitely linked to mercury. I'm not. I'm just saying it's possible. Most research indicates MS results from a combination of factors and I don't know enough to disagree with that. But knowing that even a minute amount of mercury is incredibly dangerous, just seems insane and maybe even negligent to continue putting it in our mouths. I wonder if maybe the liability issue is really why most dentists dismiss this. We live in a CYA society now.

which is ALSO why I'm a...

-- (Miss Ann@th.rope), March 22, 2000.

There was a time [when *I* was 12 years old] when mercury was the ONLY substance available to fill a cavity, although I suppose there were folks who used gold. That time is long past, and time has shown that mercury didn't even do such a great job. Mercury expands and contracts as the years go by, eventually causing cracking and a need for replacement. Much like the appliances folks bought all at once, the time comes when those appliances break down all at once. I had five fillings replaced this past summer because the expansion/contraction of the mercury through the years resulted in cracks. The new stuff is non-toxic, and will last longer than I will.

The price difference is certainly lower than the Y2k windowing versus data expansion "fix." I think it was $10.00 more for the fillings that last forever versus the fillings that will fail again in 30 years.

-- Anita (notgiving@anymore.thingee), March 22, 2000.

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