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Mercury Pollution Affects Ocean Conservation

Another culprit in making fish less safe to eat and a familiar topic in holistic dentistry is mercury pollution. The earth releases one third of the mercury in the environment from its core and in groundwater. The remaining two thirds comes from people in the form of consumer waste like fluorescent bulbs, thermometers and from medical vaccines. Byproducts of coal burning, mining, industry, dentistry and medicine release mercury into the air and the water. Leaks from offshore drilling and sewage also endanger marine habitats.

Once released, inorganic mercury is converted to methyl-mercury by microorganisms on land and in the water. Through a process called bio-accumulation, mercury works its way up the food chain so that larger, predatory fish like tuna, swordfish and sharks have the highest mercury levels.

In 2004, The Environmental Protection Agency advised that women of child-bearing age and young children avoid swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. Additionally, it was recommended that consumption of albacore tuna be limited to six ounces or less every week, and other fish low in mercury like salmon to 12 ounces a week or less for these two groups.

Fish consumption and amalgam dental metals are two of the main sources of mercury exposure, another is passed from mother to child during pregnancy. As of June, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration has stated that silver-colored amalgam fillings, which contain up to 50% mercury, may not be advisable for pregnant women and young children.

In San Francisco, where approximately 1,600 dentists practice from 600 offices, studies of the Bay revealed that one of the chief sources of pollution was mercury from dental offices. As of 2004, with the mandatory installation of amalgam separators, and other regulatory measures, pollution in the Bay has now been significantly reduced. However, the improvement came about only after the filtration became mandatory. As of September, 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency continues to support a voluntary program.

Although dental metals account for 14% of the metal waste found in the ocean, no state regulatory boards have made mercury/amalgam filtration mandatory as yet. It may well be that the momentum in this area will have to come from consumers. Do you know whether your dentist has an amalgam separator that keeps mercury out of the water system?

Ultimately, all our activities have an impact on the eco-system, contributing to our own well-being and to that of future generations. Recycling, becoming active locally, supporting green businesses and organizations dedicated to conservation, like Surfrider and the Wyland Foundation, are some of the ways we can help to create sustainability.