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Dentists to decide on mercury use

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency does not plan to curb dental use of mercury in tooth fillings, even though critics want dentists to do more to reduce the amount of mercury seeping into sewage systems.

“The choice of dental treatment rests solely with dental professionals and their patients,” Geoffrey Grubbs, the EPA’s director of science and technology, said in prepared testimony for a House subcommittee Wednesday. “EPA does not intend to second-guess these treatment decisions.”

Grubbs did recommend voluntary measures that go beyond what the American Dental Association says is necessary to reduce the amount of mercury going down the drain in dentist offices, such as installing amalgam separators. He also recommended the use of mercury-free fillings, but acknowledged the higher costs.

Mercury, a toxic natural material, has been eliminated from many products. But amalgam, which combines mercury with silver, copper and tin, still is used as tooth filling.

The ADA says amalgam separators are unnecessary because the mercury captured would be the same substance removed during wastewater treatment.

Some city sewage officials disagree.

“Control at the source is the best way to manage such toxic metals,” said David Galvin, program manager for King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, which operates Seattle’s wastewater system.

The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies estimates that dentists contribute around 40 percent of mercury received by publicly owned sewage treatment plants.

Grubbs said mercury concentrations in water are low, and the greatest exposure risks come from regularly eating fish with high mercury levels.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the Government Reform wellness and human rights subcommittee, said mercury should not be used at all by dentists.

“If we didn’t have mercury in our fillings, would this be a problem? Of course not,” he said.