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A Toxics-Free Future

Dental amalgam a health, environmental risk: activists

http://www.nation.co.ke/lifestyle/health/Dental-amalgam-a-health-environ...

A group of environmental activists led by former US State Attorney General have petitioned the Kenyan government to phase out the use of the substance in health care terming it as toxic to human health and the environment.

By LEOPOLD OBI

A group of environmental activists led by former US State Attorney General have petitioned the Kenyan government to phase out the use of the substance in health care terming it as toxic to human health and the environment.

Dental amalgam, a substance popularly used in filling tooth cavities is 50 per cent mercury- which the activists pointed said is health risk to its unsuspecting users.

VOLATILE HEAVY METAL
Mr Charles Brown, a former West Virginia State Attorney General and World Alliance for Mercury Free Dentistry president, says mercury is a volatile heavy metal and therefore an environmental pollutant.

“Consumers are either not paying attention or not aware of the mercury component in the amalgam. Well the amalgam long lasting however when the substance is a threat to the health and environment it then it stops being effective,” Brown said

The Minamata Convention, a global treaty that regulates a range of areas, including the use of mercury in products and industrial processes, proposed to eliminate of mercury products by 2020.

“The major highlights of the Minamata Convention on Mercury include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, control measures on air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining,” Mr Brown said.

Mr Griffin Ochieng, an environmentalist at the Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD), said dentists should promote cost effective and clinically effective mercury-free alternatives for dental restoration.

SENSITISE CONSUMERS
“There are other substances like composites and glass ionomers which are tooth friendly,” Ochieng added.

The environmentalists said they are out to sensitise consumers so that they are aware of the available options as dental restoration is concerned.

Aron Kecha, expert from CEJAD said; “global production of mercury is being halted by 2020 thus its production will be very minimal making the amalgam even more expensive, so we have to explore better alternatives now.”

Dr Wangui Onyiego, Chief Dental Officer and Head of Oral Health Unit Ministry of Health, on the other hand argues that dental amalgam is composed of mercury and a silver- tin alloy mixed in proportions fit for use in dentistry.

“It is stable in the mouth environment and safe to use on humans. However, poor disposal of excess amalgam after a procedure or in extracted filled teeth may release free mercury into the air,” the government’s chief dental officer explained.
Release of free mercury into the air, soil, water and fisheries is what is of health concern and dental amalgam is not a major contributor, Dr Onyiego said, adding they are now encouraging use of amalgam separators (devices designed to remove amalgam waste particles from dental office wastewater)in dental clinics.

“However, in support of the convention on mercury, where Kenya is a signatory, the Ministry of Health is phasing down dental amalgam use and is encouraging use of alternative dental filling materials,” Dr Onyiego said.