Environmental NGOs are urging the European Commission (EC) to restrict sales of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, showing how they can be feasibly replaced with lighting emitting diode (LED) lamps. “The time is ripe for an EC decision to take CFLs (<30W) off the shelves throughout the EU by 2018,” said EEB’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo. Since the US Energy Department’s lifecycle analysis shows that LEDs far surpass CFLs in efficiency and other environmental impacts, advocates are also calling for US retailers to follow IKEA’s lead in ending CFL sales. “LEDs are environmentally preferable to CFLs from a lifecycle perspective,” said Alicia Culver, RPN’s director. “LEDs use less energy, last three times longer than CFLs. They are a practical and affordable alternative for most general purpose lighting applications.” Workers can be exposed to mercury when manufacturing, transporting, installing, recycling or disposing of CFLs and other fluorescent lamps. Pregnant women and toddlers may be exposed above safe levels when CFLs are broken in rooms without ventilation. “LEDs don’t contain mercury and are becoming more cost competitive, especially when energy use and higher CFL disposal costs are factored in,” said MPP director Bender.
60 NGOs recently urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to convince FDA to conform with US policy to reduce amalgam use. The groups assert that a 2009 FDA rule is impeding mercury reduction and contrary to the position taken by the U.S. during negotiations: “The United States supports further consideration of dental amalgam by the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee such that the agreement is able to achieve the phase down, with the goal of eventual phase out by all Parties, of mercury amalgam upon the development and availability of affordable, viable alternatives.” However, FDA takes the opposite view, as articulated in its 2009 rule and unaltered since that time. “As explained in our letter, FDA is fundamentally at odds with the Convention’s provisions to “phase down the use of dental amalgam, ” as well as the U.S. Government’s position,” said MPP director Bender. “The difference in approach reflects the Convention’s consideration of dental amalgam’s full life cycle and the lack of any environmental assessment by FDA.” According to the latest U.S. Geological Survey report, dental amalgam is now one of the largest consumer uses of mercury in the U.S. today.
On behalf of CSPI and MPP, Earthjustice recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against FDA for failing to respond to our 2011 petition requesting the Agency to give consumers clear, accurate and accessible information about mercury in seafood (as recent press reports explain.) The lawsuit seeks a court-ordered deadline since under its own regulations, FDA had 180 days to respond and its failure to do so violates federal law. In 2004, FDA acknowledged MeHg exposure risks when it issued an online advisory based on now outdated research. Several recent studies suggest adverse effects at exposure levels 10-fold lower than those considered acceptable a decade ago.
A new ZMWG report highlights the importance of the new treaty being ratified as soon as possible to reduce global pollution and exposure to mercury. The treaty will be signed next week near Minamata, where a major mercury poisoning incident was first discovered. NGOs from 9 countries participated in the study in order to ascertain mercury hair levels in women. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of the samples exceeded the widely recognized U.S. EPA guideline of 1 μg/g. In 4 countries, a high percentage exceeded the threshold, specifically: 71% in Japan; 64% in Spain; 36% in Mauritius; and 23% in Côte d’Ivoire. “The results indicate that the mercury hair levels in Japanese women were significantly higher than the other countries tested,” said Dr. Takashi Yorifuji, Associate Professor at Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Japan. “Risk of adverse health effects in children following in utero methylmercury exposures is well documented and rises as maternal exposure increases.”
At the annual meeting of the #2 U.S. amalgam manufacturer, a broad-based coalition of community, faith-based, and environmental groups called on Dentsply International to cease making amalgam. The speakers unveiled a letter from 23 organizations from Pennsylvania, around the nation, and from six continents — including several religious orders — calling for Dentsply to set a timetable to phase-out mercury amalgam, according to news reports. Shareholders also similarly weighed in.
After four years of deliberation, a new global regime rises today that will govern toxic mercury worldwide. “Adoption of a global legal agreement on mercury is a major accomplishment,” said Michael T. Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group in an overview and a press release. “Yet the instrument is hampered by weak controls on mercury emissions from major sources like coal-fired power plants.” For more details, see a short summary of the key articles of the treaty. A more extensive summary explains more details along with some media coverage.
The Zero Mercury Working Group, in cooperation with scientists from the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and with other prominent scientists, organized a global webinar to release new findings that demonstrate extensive mercury contamination and summarize studies that show health effects from methylmercury occurring below the level that was considered “safe” just a few years ago. This comes ahead of the final round of United Nations negotiations, scheduled in January 2013, for a global mercury treaty. Slides from the webinar presentations are now available along with the reports: BRI report; Dr. Groth’s report for ZMWG and ZMWG summary/recommendations.
Over the past decade, awareness about the risks of mercury in certain fish has increased and pregnant women in particular have been alerted to shop carefully and a recent study indicates that over one-third of American’s mercury exposure is from tuna. But what about the risks from fish children consume at school? In it’s 2011 Annual Report to the Governor, Legislature and Citizens of the State of Vermont, the state mercury advisory committee recommended: “….collaboration between the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Education to communicate with Vermont schools and raise awareness among faculty, staff, and parents about the methyl mercury exposure risk to young children of consuming excessive amounts of tuna fish in school lunch programs,” see: page 2 and 5 of the 2011 report. To further investigate this, MPP announced today in a statement that it is co-releasing with other groups a first ever report on testing for mercury in tuna sold to schools, “Tuna Surprise,” which received extensive media coverage.
The EEB and MPP welcomed a new study for the European Commission, which recommends phasing out dental amalgam use in five years. The BIOS report noted that mercury-free fillings appear more expensive than amalgam because the negative external costs associated with management of amalgam are not factored in. MPP director Bender discussed the EU study in a recent youtube interview, and also said that “When factoring in external costs to society, the average price of an amalgam would be 15% higher than that of a composite,” referencing a recent study on the The Real Cost of Dental Mercury.
Joined by the EU, Canada and other developed countries, the U.S. opposed a separate health provision during the fourth (of five) mercury treaty negotiation earlier this week in Punta del Este, Uruguay. “This is an example of north–south double standard over whether health issues will be addressed equitably,” stated Michael Bender , MPP director, who provided a statement on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group during the negotiation. “Mercury is a basic human rights issue. Health strategies to address reducing exposure to mercury must be included in this treaty.”