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Legislation on mercury proposed

11 April 2016

The European Commission adopted a legislative proposal on mercury, implementing the Minamata convention and repealing the existing European regulation. 

Art.10 concerns dental amalgam and the European Commission proposes that: 

1. From 1 January 2019 onwards dental amalgam shall only be used in an encapsulated form. 

2. From 1 January 2019 onwards dental facilities shall be equipped with amalgam separators aimed at retaining and collecting amalgam particles. Those separators shall be maintained as required to ensure a high level of retention. 

3. Capsules and amalgam separators complying with harmonised EN standards or with other national or international standards that ensure an equivalent level of quality and of level retention shall be presumed to satisfy the requirement set out under paragraphs 1 and 2.

The impact assessment of the European Commission concluded that a ban (option P602) on dental amalgam would not be a proportionate measure. 

However, in the same impact assessment at page 46 it is recalled that the majority of respondents in the public consultation (85%) favoured the ban (option P6O2), while only 12% expressed a preference for option P6O1 ( restrict the use of dental amalgam to its encapsulated form and impose the use of separators in dental practices). Only 3% of the participants did not respond to this question, indicating the strong interest this issue raised among participants. Among individuals, 86% favoured option P6O2, against 11% favouring option P6O1 and 3% not responding. Among organisations, the corresponding figures are 61% in favour of the ban (P6O2), 23% for P6O1 and 16% for no response.”  

The same impact assessment highlights that “the issue of dental amalgam is the most controversial as certain dentists are very much in favour of an immediate prohibition (option P6O2), while the Council of European Dentists (CED) rather support softer measures aiming at the gradual phase-down of this use (option P6O1)”. 

EurEau has consistently advocated for a ban on dental amalgam.

Mercury is one of the most hazardous environmental toxins and is a threat to human health and the environment as elementary mercury accumulates in water, sediments and living organisms. It is therefore of great importance that the use and release of mercury is phased out.

Swedish studies indicate that dental amalgam is the source of 85-90% of the mercury entering the wastewater treatment plants, making dental amalgam the single largest source of mercury to the receiving waters and to sewage sludge, due to the daily erosion of people’s amalgam fillings and leakage from dental clinics and their sewers.

Using amalgam separators in dental practice will only partly solve the problem. In the long-term, new control mechanisms (such as an EU-wide phase-out of ‘new’ dental amalgam) are required to deal with this diffuse source. This is crucial if the mercury requirements of the Water Framework Directive and its daughter Directive on Priority Substances are to be achieved. Since alternatives exist, a phase-out of all new amalgam fillings, carried out with great success already e.g. in Finland and Sweden, is also a cost-efficient method to reduce the flow of mercury to the European waters. 

It can also be regarded as best practice or best available technology to reduce the flow of mercury in urban areas.

Here I will try to update you about the developments on this file in the upcoming months.


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