High levels of mercury emissions measured in dental institutions

Lumex mercury testing in Philippines dental schoolsPublic health and environmental groups exposed the high concentration of mercury vapor in dental clinics and schools in the country in its study titled What’s Up in the Air? Mercury Vapor Levels in Dental Institutions.

Environmental justice group BAN Toxics and dentist Dr. Lillian Ebuen measured the level of concentration of mercury in five dental schools and supply stores in some regions of the country, including CAR.

Using the Lumex RA-915+ Mercury Vapor Analyzer, it was found out that mercury concentration values varied from 967ng/m3 to a high of 35,617ng/m3—the majority of which were at levels beyond recommended reference standards such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) action level of 1,000 ng/m3. Some areas posted a concentration of >10,000 ng/m3, which is considered as the evacuation alert level by the US EPA.

“This level of mercury is dangerous for students and practitioners who work in clinics for eight to nine hours a day”, stated Dr. Ebuen. “Continued exposure to high levels of mercury vapor can even lead to mercury intoxication at the worst”, she added.

Source of mercury vapor in dental institutions is dental amalgam, a material used as dental fillings. It is composed of 50% mercury and some amounts of silver, tin, copper, and other trace materials. Under the DENR Administrative Order 38 or “Chemical Control Order for Mercury and Mercury Compounds”, procurement and usage of the element is allowed in dentistry.

“Despite the negative effects of mercury vapor, dental amalgam proliferates because it is presently allowed”, expressed Attorney Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics.

In an interview conducted by Ban Toxics in February 2012, local miners revealed that mercury is frequently sourced out from dental clinics which, aside from supplying the substance, also operate as gold buyers. This practice appears to be common mostly in mining areas in Northern Luzon only. In fact, in Baguio City, it is quite typical to see a jewelry shop/gold dealer and a dental supplier/clinic located right beside each other (BAN Toxics, 2012). For enterprise such as small-scale mining, DENR strictly prohibits the use of mercury under Executive Order 79.

Statistics from the UNCOMTRADE, a database of United Nations that monitors the trade of products like dental amalgam, showed an increasing amount of the material imported by the country each year.

“Even with the present provisions to import dental amalgam from other countries, we still look forward to the future when this material is totally banned. Our students, dental practitioners, miners, not to mention the future generation of our country, deserve a world free of toxics,” Attorney Gutierrez added.

Source: Ban Toxics