Without "silver" mercury fillings, gold and composite materials are the choices. Photo via DeaPeaJay @ flickr.
Hot on the heels of the TreeHugger post on Italian nuclear waste being imported to the Utah desert, here's a frightening story from Lismore, New South Wales.: a device known as the Bulb Eater, looking like a cross between a 40-gallon drum and a snorkel, is being used to crush fluorescent bulbs and extract the mercury at a recycling center. That's all to the good, as it keeps the mercury from the landfill. Guess where the highly toxic mercury goes once it is sucked from the old light bulbs, however? According to this article, it ends up in the U.S., where it will be used for dental amalgams - known to you and me as fillings.Captures mercury vapor
The Bulb-Eater is quite a cool machine - in fact one manufacturer, Air Cycle, calls it "the most fun you can have disposing of spent lamps." It crushes the glass and aluminum in fluorescent bulbs so that both materials can be recycled, and a canister filters the mercury gas. Thus far Lismore says it has recycled more than 10,000 bulbs, collected from homes, businesses and street lamps in the city. CFLs also contain a small amount of mercury - 2 to 5 milligrams (about 1/100th of what is in a dental amalgam) and should be recycled through IKEA, Home Depot, or a municipal or commercial recycling service.
That the mercury should then be sent to the U.S. for manufacturing dental amalgams should probably come as no surprise. The U.S. is one of the nations still using mercury, one of the most toxic elements, in amalgams. (Sweden, Germany, Canada for example, have either banned or limited use of mercury for amalgams.)
For many years the US Federal Drug Administration insisted that mercury amalgams are safe, and many dentists still believe them to be safe as well as the sturdiest material for filling cavities. However, the FDA, after losing a lawsuit last year from Moms Against Mercury, now has until June of this year to classify mercury as a "substance that poses a health risk to pregnant women, and unborn babies, and children."
Interestingly enough, former President Bush signed into law a bill making it illegal to export mercury starting in 2013.