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The Green Life: In the Water: Out With Mercury, in With Fluoride?

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September 29, 2010

In the Water: Out With Mercury, in With Fluoride?

Clean waterThe EPA just announced that it'll propose a rule next year to reduce mercury waste from dental offices (liquid mercury is one of the main ingredients in dental fillings).

Some 50% of mercury entering waste-treatment plants comes from old fillings being replaced with new ones; the mercury that dentists flush into chair-side drains enters wastewater systems and ends up in rivers and lakes. There, certain microorganisms convert the mercury into methylmercury. This highly toxic form of the element builds up in fish, shellfish, and fish-eating animals — including humans.

Until the EPA's rule is final, dental offices are being encouraged to install amalgam separators, which can parse out 95% of the 3.7 tons of mercury discharged from dental offices each year.

But how can we reduce cavities, which in turn, will help reduce the number of mercury fillings needed? One way, some say, is to ensure that communities receive the optimal level of fluoridated water, which can prevent and control tooth decay.

Leading the way in fluoride expansion is California, which just earned the State Fluoridation Initiative Award for achieving the greatest increase in the number of residents who get fluoridated water. The state boasts that 58% of its residents, or 21.5 million people, get water that's fluoridated.

--Molly Oleson

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