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Mercury In Tooth Fillings Targeted

Mercury In Tooth Fillings Targeted
August 31, 2004
By WILLIAM HATHAWAY, Courant Staff Writer

Environmental groups are urging state officials to tell dentists to stop using amalgam fillings as part of an effort to reduce use of mercury in Connecticut.

The groups have called a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford today to urge the state Department of Environmental Protection to enforce a 2002 law that bans products with mercury if alternatives are available.

"When there is a viable alternative to a toxic pollutant, you have to say, `You can't do that anymore, switch to something else,'" said Betty McLaughlin, director of environmental affairs at the Connecticut Audubon Society.

DEP officials say the state's mercury reduction law was never intended to ban the use of mercury in fillings. Instead, the state is asking that dentists use separators to extract mercury from wastewater and take other steps to ensure mercury does not enter the environment, DEP spokesman Matt Fritz said Monday.

Dental fillings are not exempt from the state's mercury reduction law, said Charles G. Brown, counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that also is seeking an end to use of mercury in dental fillings. He added that dentists could use nontoxic composite fillings instead.

But, said Dr. Jonathan Meiers, associate professor and division head of operative dentistry at the University of Connecticut School of Dentistry, amalgams are easier to use, more durable and about 30 percent cheaper than composites. Even so, Meiers added, many patients do not like the metallic look of amalgams and prefer composites.

Dental fillings account for a high percentage of all mercury used in the United States, environmentalists say.

By one estimate, two-thirds of fillings used by dentists nationally contain mercury. A 2002 study published by the Mercury Policy Project, a Vermont-based group that seeks to reduce use of toxin worldwide, estimates that dentistry accounts for 44 tons - or about 25 percent of the annual amount of mercury used in the United States.