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HEALTH : DENTAL AMALGAM AN ENVIRONMENTAL RISK, SAYS EU COMMITTEE.

Supported by a new report, several organisations have called for an early ban on dental amalgam

The Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) confirmed, on 14 March, its preliminary conclusion that mercury in dental amalgam could, under extreme local conditions, contaminate the environment to a level presenting a danger to ecosystems. The European Environment Bureau and the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry reacted to the report immediately by calling on the EU institutions to propose a ban on dental amalgam as soon as possible. The European Commission is expected to come to a decision after receiving the report from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), responsible for studying the impact of dental amalgam on human health.

Amalgam has been used for more than 150 years to treat dental cavities. It is composed of mercury, a chemical element known for its excellent chemical and physical characteristics but also for its toxicity to humans, ecosystems and nature. It is estimated that around 20 tonnes of mercury from dental treatment are released into the environment every year (with high amounts in France and Poland), 14% of total emissions from human sources (estimated at 140 tonnes per year in 2010).

Until now, the Commission has always maintained - based on advice from its scientific committees - that the use of dental fillings containing mercury did not represent a serious or long-term risk to health, with the exception of allergies. But in the wake of recent international developments (see box), it asked its two scientific committees (SCHER and SCENIHR) to re-examine the situation. In its final report(1), SCHER concludes that the worst-case scenario could result in mercury concentration above the safe threshold established by EU legislation. "There is a potential consequential risk to the aquatic ecosystem as well as a risk of bioaccumulation [concentration in tissue - Ed] and secondary poisoning in humans," concludes SCHER. It recommends compliance with the threshold for mercury set in the water framework directive (2000/60/EC). SCENIHR is expected to publish its preliminary report on the safety of dental amalgam and alternatives for patients and users in the coming weeks.

Evolving context

In 2011, the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation urging its member states to take action by "restricting or prohibiting the use of amalgam for dental fillings". The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of alternatives. The consulting firm BIO Intelligence Service issued two successive reports to the European Commission, in 2010 and 2012, calling for a ban on mercury amalgam by 2018. On 19 January 2013, 94 states (the EU among them) signed in Minamata, Japan, a convention on the phase-out of mercury. Denmark and Sweden have already banned dental mercury on their territory.

(1)The document is available at http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/environmental_risks/docs/scher_o_165.pdf

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 20, 2014
Words:474
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