Last month, the Minimata Convention on Mercury – intended to reduce mercury use and emissions around the world – was officially launched. The 140 nations involved now have a year to sign the treaty, which includes provisions for a “phase-down” of dental amalgam.
Considering that both the American Dental Association (ADA) and British Dental Association (BDA) keep the faith in this neurotoxin’s place in the profession, you’ve got to wonder why they sound so…well…pleased with it all.
Check out what BDA representative Dr. Stuart Johnston had to say following treaty ceremonies in Japan:
We welcome the fact that this treaty strikes a sensible balance between the very understandable imperative to reduce global mercury emissions and the need to have the tools available for dental professionals worldwide to continue the fight to improve oral health.
That sounds a whole lot like the ADA, who’s headline after the adoption of the treaty back in January celebrated a critical fact:
That’s right. As we noted back in January, no phase-out date was set for dental amalgam, and the bar for compliance isn’t all that high. DAMS executive director Leo Cashman had much stronger words about this aspect of the treaty:
In dealing with the mandatory phase-down, each country will have to pick two or more phase-down measures, out of nine that are listed in the treaty, that it promises to comply with. These measures include: setting national objectives at minimizing dental amalgam use, promoting mercury-free filling materials, encouraging dental schools to train dentists to use mercury-free alternatives and restricting amalgam use to its encapsulated form. But at least two of these measures are already in place in countries like the US, Canada, Britain, Ireland and Australia, and none of these countries are anywhere near a phase-out of amalgams or a ban. This shows that the phase down measures have no teeth in them and that the phase-down served as a smoke-screen for maintaining the status quo.
We should not play along with their deception by publicizing it as a victory for our side. This smoke-screen is so disturbing that we might wonder what the real purpose of the treaty was: Was it really to protect health and the environment, or was it really to provide token concessions while maintaining the status quo for dental amalgams, mercury in vaccines and the coal burning power plant industry?
For dental amalgam mercury, the environmental aspects alone are very significant. Between 300 and 400 tons of mercury are used globally in dental amalgam mercury fillings per year. Whether the mercury from dental amalgams accumulates in a person’s body or gets excreted into a toilet and out into the sewage treatment system, dental mercury is going to cause problems somewhere. A treaty that doesn’t deal with the dental amalgam mercury problem in a firm way is an environmental and a health failure. [emphasis added]
At best, the inclusion of the dental provision – coming on the heels of successful phase-outs of mercury in Norway and elsewhere – may generate some momentum by creating a sense that an end to dental mercury is, in fact, inevitable. We hope this happens.
If and when it does, though, it won’t be due to the treaty but the continued hard work of mercury-free, mercury-safe dentists, informed consumers and others who know the truth about the harms dental mercury can do.