From: Brandie Jefferson, The Providence Journal
Published January 4, 2006 12:00 AM

Law Bans Most Mercury from Products

In an attempt to reduce, and eventually eliminate, mercury from finding its way into Narragansett Bay, the sale of items with more than one gram of mercury was prohibited as of Sunday, when a new Rhode Island law took effect.

The law, which was initially scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2005, was postponed and reworded. It now includes exemptions for some products, including fluorescent lights and, according to Sheila Dormody, amalgam dental fillings.

Dormody, director of Clean Water Action Rhode Island, said the state has been "good and progressive" in its attempts to eliminate mercury from the environment, but still has a way to go.

"Government agencies need to do a far better job of controlling mercury pollution from dental fillings and mercury products," Dormody said in a news release announcing the publication of a report published by a group of Northeast state agencies.

Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management reported that more than 10,000 pounds of mercury are released in the Northeast states every year. Although regional programs have led to significant reductions, there are several areas still not addressed.

One way for the state to reduce mercury pollution, Dormody said, is to follow the lead of the Narragansett Bay Commission.

The commission manages the sewers for 10 areas in the state, including Providence, Pawtucket and the northern part of East Providence. Since May of 2004, dentists in the commission's jurisdiction have been required to either monitor their mercury waste or install an amalgam separator.

Amalgam fillings are a mixture of metals, including mercury, silver and tin. When they are removed or worked on, the metal often ends up in the drain, entering the sewage system and ending up in water treatment plants and incinerators.

Instead of more regulations on the facilities, the commission decided to try to prevent mercury from entering the sewage system in the first place by requiring the separator, which catches more than 99 percent of mercury.

"It keeps dental amalgam out of the wastewater," Jamie Samons, public affairs manager at the commission said, "so it never makes it through the sewer, to the treatment plants or out into Narragansett Bay."

Samons said the program is already yielding results.

In the past one and a half years, the mercury levels at Fields Point wastewater treatment plant have dropped by 17 percent. At Bucklin Point, they have dropped by 23 percent.

There are more than 150 practicing dentists in the commission's area of jurisdiction. Samons credits the program's success to the cooperation between the Rhode Island Dental Association and the Narragansett Bay Commission.

The association, she said "has been enthusiastic about the program because ultimately everybody benefits."

Dormody would like to see the rest of the state benefit from a similar program.

She would like to see the same requirements placed on dentists' offices around the state. "It's cost effective and comprehensive."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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