US House Subcommittee Calls on FDA to Reform Dental Mercury Rules

After two congressional oversight hearings (at which MPP recently testified, see posts below) concerning the environmental release of dental mercury, a US House Government Oversight subcommittee is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to reform its rulemaking on dental mercury, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. In a July 28, 2008 letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Kucinich reminded FDA of its statutory duty under NEPA to prepare an environmental impact statement or conduct an environmental assessment as part of the rulemaking process in reclassifying dental mercury, classifying encapsulated amalgam alloy and dental mercury or issuing special controls for amalgam alloy.

Mercury Export Ban Act

Mercury Export Ban Act, S. 906, (substitute) is scheduled to be marked up today at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. The legislation would prohibit the sale of mercury by the U.S. government, ban exports of elemental mercury starting in 2010, establish a process for storing surplus mercury— and is supported by environmental, industry and state groups. “Trading mercury is not like trading potato chips,” said MPP Director Bender in a statement. “We’ve got to stop this circle of poison, where for example over 1000 tons of mercury are used annually by more than 10 million gold miners in 50 developing countries, exposing themselves, their families and the local and global environment to this dangerous neurotoxin.”

Lawmakers came up with the plan to have DOE accept the liquid metal for storage after they consulted with the industry organizations, including the American Chemistry Council, National Mining Association and The Chlorine Institute; environmentalists, including NRDC and MPP; and ECOS, a coalition of states’ top environmental regulators (see letter of support). While similar versions of the bill were introduced in the House (H.R. 1534) by Tom Allen (D-ME), and Senate (S.906) by Senators Obama (D-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the groups are urging passage of the substitute House-passed version, since it was the subject of subsequent negotiation and compromise, and more accurately reflects the current state of development on this issue.

Facing Up to the Hazards of Mercury Tooth Fillings

MPP director Michael Bender testifies today before a US Congressional Government Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy hearing, entitled “Assessing State and Local Regulations to Reduce Mercury Emissions.” During his testimony, Bender presents MPP’s new report, “Facing Up to the Hazards of Mercury Tooth Fillings,” which lays out the rationale for placing a user fee on the continued use of dental mercury as a means to cover the costs of preventing dental mercury pollution from environmental release. Specifically, the report recommends that a user fee of $30.00 be assessed on amalgam manufacturers for the production of each mercury tooth filling, payable at time of sale. Funds collected should be placed into a designated account to cover the costs of controlling mercury pollution. The report also shows the cost-effectiveness of amalgam separators at preventing mercury from getting into the environment and clearly demonstrates that voluntary programs are not effective in convincing dentists to install and properly maintain separators.

EU Adopts Mercury Export Ban

The European Parliament recently adopted a ban on the export of mercury from the EU, one of the world’s biggest mercury exporters, and ensuring its safe storage, beginning in March 2011. In addition to metallic mercury, the ban covers other compounds such cinnabar ore, mercury chloride and oxide. The regulation requires the storage of mercury either in salt mines, in deep, underground, hard rock formations, or in above-ground facilities. “Although we would have liked to see a more robust regulation, this agreement between the two institutions is a very good step towards locking down mercury in the EU,” said Elena Lymberidi Settimo, EEB’s Project Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Campaign (see press release).

The EU Commission is required to submit by 2010 a report on any technological advances in the solidification of mercury and, if appropriate, a proposal for revision of the directive not later than 15. March 2013. In addition, the Commission must report by 2010 if there is a need for an import ban on mercury and if the export ban should be extended to other compounds, mixtures and products containing mercury, in particular thermometers, barometers and sphygmomanometers. More information on the EU mercury export ban.

Groups Launch Green Lighting Campaign

Environmental groups from New York to California are taking a pledge to consider only the “greenest” CFLs when making purchases for office use and during compact fluorescent lamp giveaways. The new “Green Lighting Campaign” intends to promote more sustainable lighting practices such as recycling, rather than throwing lamps containing mercury in the trash. Toxic levels in lamps have created concerns when the lamps are produced, transported, installed, broken or disposed of, say advocates. Absent mercury content reductions and manufacturing dosing improvements, global mercury use will increase with expanding fluorescent lighting use, and negate dramatic mercury reductions anticipated in most other sectors. Offered by a coalition of groups (see press release), the guidance and pledge have other organizations considering steps to include more than energy efficiency when determining their lighting purchases.

Millions of lamps are purchased every year, a decision typically made by a handful of people. Many work with or in non-profit groups, who then distribute them to the public. Lamp giveaways are held to help educate and motivate the public around issues of energy efficiency and climate change. By making these purchases influence more than the climate change issue, the Green Lighting Campaign seeks to influence the overall market for lighting products. “As we choose compact fluorescent lamps to combat global warming, we can and should reduce toxic pollution at the same time,” said Bill Magavern, Director of Sierra Club California. “The Green Lighting Campaign seeks to protect households and workers from both mercury pollution and climate change.”

New CFL Breakage Clean-Up Guidance

Tests conducted by the State of Maine (see FAQ and Clean-Up Instructions) confirm earlier states findings suggesting that under certain conditions mercury vapor released from a broken compact fluorescent lamp can pose a health risk. As a precaution, states like Vermont and Massachusetts are now suggesting removal of carpeting where breakage has occurred where there are infants and pregnant women present. A report MPP released today recommends that sensitive populations should take extra precautions to reduce risks associated with breakage, but says that CFLs generally can and should still be used in everyone’s homes until a nontoxic light bulb becomes available. The report also recommends the adoption of more comprehensive environmental and human health guidelines by decision makers that, in addition to energy-efficiency, address other concerns, including:

  • Reduced toxicity while maintaining performance;
  • Improved breakage resistance and longer lamp life (which can reduce manufacturing, transportation and disposal impacts);
  • Sustainable manufacturing processes (such as the use of encapsulated mercury-dosing technologies);
  • Responsible end-of-life management (particularly through producer responsibility in funding lamp collection and retailer collection programs)
  • Innovative technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that use less- or non-toxic materials, that have significantly longer life, are much more efficient for certain applications, and/or that offer other measurable environmental benefits.

In response to the Maine CFL breakage study, the US EPA has made some changes to its CFL clean up guidance.

However, according to MPP Director Bender, the EPA advice could be readily improved through following new state guidance which 1) recommends against vacuuming and 2) instead favors cleaning up the debris with cardboard and sticky tape and quickly removing it from the home, so as to 3) minimize vaporization of mercury.

Investigation of EPA’s Dental Mercury Emissions Estimate

As a result of its findings from a November 14, 2007 hearing at which MPP Director Bender testified, the US House Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is conducting an investigation into the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine if EPA has underestimated mercury emissions related to dental use of mercury. The Subcommittee’s hearing revealed significant disparities between the agency’s data for mercury emissions related to dental use of mercury and other estimates. EPA has even expressed a lack of confidence in some of its estimates. Furthermore, there are a number of other emissions pathways for which EPA has failed to develop any estimates, as the attached letter from the Subcommittee to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson outlines. It its letter, Chairman Dennis Kucinich requests that EPA provide specific information to the Committee no later than Feb.29, 2008.

Oceana/MPP Study Shows High Tuna Levels

Mercury has again been in the news with the release of new data on mercury levels in tuna sushi by the New York Times and Oceana/Mercury Policy Project study. While the results were startling–around 1 of 3 pieces of tuna tested had levels above FDA’s action level of 1 PPM–the attack by special interests against those covering the news was swift and erroneous. Seemingly, according to these special interests, everyone including pregnant women and children could eat as much high mercury fish as they wanted, without any risk. In response, 29 mercury experts from 11 countries signed on to the following open letter to set the record straight.

US House Committee to Evaluate Dental Mercury

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 14, to discuss FDA’s responsibility to evaluate the harmful environmental impacts of mercury dental fillings and to question why FDA has not finalized a rule proposed in 2002 to classify mercury tooth fillings under the Medical Device regulations. “The Hearing will show that dental uses contribute to high mercury levels in fish Americans consume,” said MPP Director Michael Bender. “Testimony will also show, for the first time, that dental mercury air emissions may be more than five times higher than recent EPA estimates.” Bender’s testimony comprehensively lays out the extent of the problem, and the need to reduce this pollution source.