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 In 2004, FDA acknowledged MeHg exposure risks when it issued an online advisory based on now outdated research.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.
As world governments bask in the celebration prepared by the government of Japan for the newly minted Minamata Convention on Mercury, ZMWG is calling on all countries – including Japan – to help stem the rise of Asia as the world’s mercury trading hub. “Traders are increasingly circumventing the export bans imposed by the EU and US by seeking safe havens, particularly in Asia,” said Richard Gutierrez, director of Ban Toxics in the Philippines. Under the Minamata Convention, the trade in mercury will be controlled, largely through an informed consent procedure. However, 50 countries will need to ratify the treaty before it comes into legal force. “While there are alternatives to mercury and controls for major sources, there is no alternative to international cooperation,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG Coordinator. ”Let’s turn these good intentions into meaningful action on the ground so that developing countries don’t bear the brunt of toxic trade.”
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.”
An American Public Health Association panel met last month to review policy proposals and soundly rejected one to “preserve” the use of dental amalgam. The resolution was backed by the American Dental Association, who claimed that the proposal was a “recent policy decision” by the APHA . The panel suggested that any revised resolution “…be reflective for support of eventual phase out of the use of dental amalgam” and presented comments from several APHA sections:
• “The proposed policy statement presents biased and one-sided arguments” on environmental impacts,
• “Recent studies verifying the benefits of mercury-free alternatives over amalgam (in terms of longevity, accessibility, and the environment) are neglected,”
• “Scientific evidence, as well as updated data from the United Nations Environment Program and other reputable sources, indicates that amalgam is a significant source of mercury pollution and largely cannot be prevented except by source reduction,” and
• “The proposed resolution mischaracterizes its interaction with the Minamata Convention on Mercury that was recently negotiated by the United States and 139 other countries… In particular, the treaty endorsed a phase-down of the use of dental amalgam, which the resolution authors explicitly fail to endorse.”
Further, the submittal from the Environment section noted that “…the proposed resolution is plainly inconsistent with the Association’s comprehensive, precautionary approach to anthropogenic mercury use. ”
A manufacturer-run program for collecting mercury thermostats is failing to keep the toxic heavy metal out of the the environment, according to a new report, Turning Up the HeatII , released today. The report estimates that the industry recycling program has captured only 8% of mercury thermostats over the past decade, resulting in over 50 tons of mercury into the environment. “Companies that profited from the sale of mercury thermostats are shirking their responsibilities,” said MPP Bender in a statement that received extensive media coverage.
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.
While no dental amalgam phase out date has been set, during the negotiations that led to the new treaty on mercury, article 6 on products in Annex C Part II, requires countries to take steps to phase down dental mercury globally. “This is the beginning of the end of dental amalgam globally,” said Michael T. Bender, MPP director, in a press release in English and Francais, which received international coverage. “We applaud the leadership role the US played in jump-starting support for a phase down in 2011 along with the concrete phase out activities in the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Japan in phasing out amalgam.”
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.
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.”