|Testimony of Michael Bender before the FDA Advisory Panel on Mercury Dental Fillings
MR. BENDER: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee for the opportunity to present here this morning.
My name is Michael Bender and I'm the director of the Mercury Policy Project. We work on both domestic and international mercury-related issues to reduce both release and exposure to mercury.
In my talk today, I will be focusing on a 2005 Norwegian broadcasting documentary examining complaints by dental nurses. The reports of high mercury exposure are shocking. In fact you will see in the documentary excerpts that my assistant will be showing directly after my presentation.
The responses by dental nurses to the airing of the documentary was that their offspring were affected too. So therefore, we have two common sense recommendations. The amalgam placement during pregnancy, as a number of countries, including Canada and Britain and Germany, et cetera, have already done, and placed dental nurses on paid leave during pregnancies.
The 2005 Norwegian Broadcasting documentary investigated a number of dental nurses' complaints, including tremors, memory and concentration problems, liver and kidney problems, and many others that I don't have time to go into at this point, but copies of my presentation will be available afterwards.
The study results that you see show that the investigation found that 25 percent of dental nurses reported having neurological problems, and many other problems as well.
There are a number of experts who claim that there is no possible way that these kind of effects could be experienced with these mercury levels, and so following the procedure used in the past in the dental office, amalgam was heated and the results were staggering.
Every time amalgam was prepared, the meter would spiked to the maximum limit the device measures.
A similar situation occurred in New Zealand during a study that was documented in 1974, when New Zealand nurses were exposed to similar levels of mercury, and they and their children experienced similar effects.
After the documentary ran in Norway, around 400 women, former dental assistants, called the television station. A pattern emerged. Many were pregnant and were also breast feeding. A high number reported children born with birth defects, learning disabilities, immunological, muscular and skeletal problems. Mothers had severe bleedings and multiple late abortions.
The documentary was also then shown in Denmark and more than 1650 dental nurses have called the Danish trade union, expressing concerns for both their health and the health of their children.
As a result, the Danish employment agency and other Federal Government agencies in Norway and Denmark have gotten together, and they are now committing a multimillion dollar, multiyear study of neurotoxic mercury exposure effects on dental assistants and dentists as well, investigating what went wrong, who was affected, and how badly.
Norway, right now, actively discourages dentists from placing amalgam, and I did meet with, when I was over in Scandinavian countries in June, I did meet with the government authorities on dental mercury.
In Norway, it's recognized that amalgam placement takes away from the life of the tooth, and I am co-chair of the State of Vermont Advisory Committee on mercury pollution, and when we talk to our dentists, they tell us the same thing. This is common knowledge, setting aside the toxicity issues.
Second, the levels of mercury in pregnant women and children are far too high as we know from the EPA interpretation of the CDC data. One in six or one in eight mothers, or expectant mothers, have mercury that was far above what's considered safe.
I'm sure it's important to cover the precautionary principle and the principle of product substitution. When available, use less toxic materials, and again, amalgam is banned, placement is banned during pregnancy.
While the levels of mercury in the past were much higher in Norway than they are in the U.S. today, recent research of 6000 U.S. dentists and dental assistants with exposures to low levels of mercury, below the WHO standard, still resulted in measurable neurological damage detectible in neuropsychological tests.
So Mr. Chair, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable, the unborn who have no say over this matter. Therefore, please consider the following common sense recommendations.
While almost everyone agrees that the developing fetus is most susceptible to mercury, we need to do more to reduce maternal exposure and the FDA is starting to do this quite well with methylmercury exposure in fish.
Except in emergencies, FDA should ban mercury tooth fillings and placements during pregnancies, and again, dental nurses should be placed on paid leave during and just prior to pregnancies.
As a result of the showing of this in Norway, the journalists who are here today were presented the most prestigious Norwegian journalistic prize for their documentaries on dental mercury exposure.
The judge's statement. "After the two journalists' impressive and extensive work, our perceptions of what 10,000 dental nurses were exposed to in their workplace has been changed forever."
There was also an award given to the dental assistant, Tordis Klausen, by the Norwegian Society for Civilian Courage. She was recognized for her tireless work to acquire and spread information about health damage resulting from exposure to dental amalgam and mercury in dental clinics.
Ms. Klausen lost her civil law suit in 1997 and 1999 for compensation, then appealed all the way to the Norwegian Supreme Court and was then denied.
She has since appealed to the European--
DR. BURTON: You have a minute left.
MR. BENDER: Okay. --has since appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Zola Prize winner is awarded to persons who, quote, openly and courageously have revealed or opposed conditions in Norway that threaten basic values in Norwegian society--human rights, democracy and legal protection.
I'd like to acknowledge the following, and also in your handouts is information. I do have a copy that I'd like to submit for the record of both Mercury Girls and also Mercury Children, and you will be seeing excerpts primarily from Mercury Girls next. Thank you very much.
Copied from page 11 of FDA transcripts on Thursday September 7th, 2006