SEYMOUR – Cyril Alapatt is determined to get his message to the people of Connecticut.
As the director for the Connecticut chapter of Clean Water Action, he has worked tirelessly to spread the word about the dangers of mercury pollution in natural water sources in the state.
“People must have the information they need in order to act upon the information,” Mr. Alapatt told Voices.
Recently, Clean Water Action released “Taking a Bite Out of Mercury Pollution: The 2005 Report Card on Dental Mercury Use and Release Reduction,” a report that demonstrates progress the six New England states are making in trying to eliminate mercury from water sources.
Mercury is a metal that has been proven to cause birth defects and damage to the central nervous system when converted by bacteria to its most dangerous form, methylmercury. It is particularly harmful to fetuses and small children.
“One person can be drastically affected by mercury more than another; it varies from person to person,” Mr. Alapatt said.
While Mr. Alapatt is pleased to announce that Connecticut had the highest scores for making improvements to eliminate mercury waste from water sources, he did note that there is room for improvement.
Paramount among the organization’s objectives is to reduce the use of mercury in dental fillings.
While discarded thermometers and factory smokestacks have long been known sources of mercury pollution, Mr. Alapatt hopes the organization can spread the word about another source of mercury waste – dental fillings.
The fillings, which are called amalgams, are made with an alloy of silver, tin, copper and mercury – with 50 percent of the alloy comprised of the latter.
Even today, several dental practices allow for mercury to be released into the water supplies, Mr. Alapatt reported. Whenever a patient’s fillings fall out they pose a threat if they are not found.
Mr. Alapatt noted that crematoriums can play a role in mercury levels. As cremations become increasingly popular choices for the deceased, emissions from the crematoriums are not being tested for mercury.
Additionally, many people are now asking to have their ashes scattered in natural settings instead of kept in urns.
This poses a threat to the environment as well because the mercury from the amalgam fillings a person received in his or her lifetime is now placed in the environment.
“This is scary, because it only takes one gram of mercury to pollute a lake of 20 acres, depending on the depth,” said Mr. Alapatt.
Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts among the New England states, require dentists to remove the mercury from the amalgam waste by using a separator.
There are alternatives to mercury-based amalgams that Mr. Alapatt says are available. Chief among them are composite, ceramic, porcelain and resin fillings.
“If more people knew that other choices were out there, it would be a big advantage,” Mr. Alapatt said.
Many local dentists have joined in the crusade. Dr. Irwin Silver, who practices on 248 Main Street, is a proponent of using amalgam-free choices for fillings to help save the environment from the dangers of mercury.
“We try to let people know that there are a number of other choices out there besides amalgam fillings,” Dr. Silver said.
Clean Water Action is on a mission to completely eliminate the use of mercury fillings by 2010. While they are moving in the right direction, there are still numerous pitfalls that exist.
One difficulty lies in the obligations of the Connecticut State Dental Association. According to Mr. Alapatt, in 2003, a change in the wording of a state Department of Environmental Protection policy allowed the dental association to block a state policy calling for the reduced use of amalgams.
The message was changed from the elimination of mercury and silver use to determining the best treatment options for patients, thus no longer forcing the dental association to require switching fillings.
According to the Clear Water Action press release, part of the problem resides with the lack of education on the dangers of mercury to the dental community and the lack of enforcement on a national level.
Another issue is insurance for the fillings. The amalgam fillings are still commonplace and are usually insured; however the resin, porcelain, ceramic and composite fillings often are not covered by dental insurance plans.
Connecticut, according to Dr. Silver, could benefit by requiring dental insurance carriers in the state to cover non-amalgam fillings, as Rhode Island currently does.
“I think that if insurance carriers were to help pay for alternatives it would make things a lot easier,” said Dr. Silver.
Mr. Alapatt contends that while there are still much-needed improvements, Connecticut as a state is moving in the right direction.
“Connecticut’s legislation requiring dentists to prevent mercury from going down the drain really has teeth,” he said.
Further information on Clear Water Action is available at www.clearwateraction.org. A copy of the New England states report is available at www.cleanwateraction.org/mercury.