The very fact that you’re reading this blog is a good sign that you already know something about the health risks posed by mercury amalgam “silver” fillings. In that case, the headline on Dr. Mercola’s latest article on the subject was probably no surprise but just a statement of fact:
There Is NO Safe Level of Using Mercury Dental Fillings
And it’s not just those who have amalgam fillings who should be concerned about this. Nor is it just dental workers, who are routinely exposed to this potent neurotoxin (indeed, one of the most toxic elements to human life). It’s all of us.
For as we’ve noted before, the dental industry is responsible for about half of all mercury water pollution, adding an estimated 3.5 tons of mercury to US water systems every year. Additionally, some mercury also goes into the trash, to be taken to landfills or incinerators, further polluting soil and air.
This is why the EPA’s proposed amalgam separator rule is so important: Separators drastically reduce mercury pollution, keeping it out of the environment and out of our bodies.
The American Dental Association has already spoken out publicly against this rule – which makes the outcome of a case currently before the US Supreme Court all the more important. It could give them greater leverage against the EPA, which has yet to finalize the rule.
The case is Michigan v. EPA, and it has to do with an EPA rule on mercury emissions from power plants. It was argued before the court in late March, along with two companion cases, National Mining Association vs. EPA and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. As coverage in the New Republic noted,
There’s no doubt of the public health benefits of the mercury rule. The question at the center of the Supreme Court case comes down to a technicality: whether the EPA factored in the costs at the appropriate stage of rulemaking. Michigan and 20 other states challenge that the EPA failed to factor in the nearly $10 billion in costs at the earliest stage, when the EPA decided whether or not to regulate mercury. The states further claim the EPA vastly overestimates the health benefits by including the benefits of reducing particulate matter in its estimate along with mercury and arsenic (a side benefit of the mercury rule would be to lessen particulate matter).
What it boils down to is this: Putting safeguards in place to limit emissions would be expensive. States and utility companies don’t want to pay.
It’s the same situation we’ve seen with the ADA and amalgam separators. Although they have “encouraged” their use for some time, they have balked at making them mandatory. As a statement from the California Dental Association put it, they’re concerned that the proposed rule would
impose undue and unnecessary burdens on dentists and the municipalities that operate publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). The ADA and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies have repeatedly pointed out in prior comments to the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget that the amalgam pre-treatment rule should not impose an undue burden. The ADA believes such burdens result in little or no incremental benefit.
In other words, it would cost too much, be a hassle and not have much of a public health benefit – all entirely debatable points.
At this time, there are no strong indications of how the court may rule on Michigan v. EPA. An analysis at SCOTUSblog suggests a 4-4 split along usual lines, with Justice Kennedy being the swing vote. Analysis at Forbes agrees, adding that “it is likely the government will win over at least one more under the longstanding Chevron doctrine in favor of granting regulators wide latitude to implement pollution regulations.” (That doctrine basically says that unless Congress has directly addressed the matter, the court defers to the regulatory agency’s interpretation of the law it administers.)
Since this kind of thing is pretty far out of our element, we contacted attorney Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, and asked him whether the current case could have an impact on the amalgam separator rule. The simple answer? Yes.
The mercury opinion on power plants will affect other EPA initiatives, including the proposed mercury separator mandate.
A profound disappointment of this Supreme Court is its irrational hostility to environmental regulation. The Court mandates one layer after another of bureaucratic action, the same steps it opposes for other agencies. This mercury-in-power-plant rule did not need to be before the Supreme Court; the lower courts had no problem with it, and EPA dotted every “I” and crossed every “T” in consummating it. A 5-to-4 decision against the rule, which could only be based on some nitpicking, picayune reason, would be a huge setback for the public health.
For now, it’s wait and see…
Image by skeeze, via Pixabay