Lebanon News

Local dental workers at risk from mercury use

The dental sector has high levels of mercury, putting workers in this sector at risk. (The Daily Star/Azakir)

BEIRUT: Dental workers in Lebanon are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of mercury due to their continued use of the substance in dental work, despite widespread global acceptance of the risks, according to a report released Thursday by NGO IndyAct.

“The results showed that the health care sector, and the dental sector in particular, have high levels of mercury, and the workers in this sector are exposed to medium to high risk levels,” said Naji Kodeih, a toxic chemist with IndyAct who led the research.

The study, conducted in October last year, assessed levels of mercury in different sectors across Lebanon and Morocco, including cement and chemical industry zones, dumps and the health care sector.

Kodeih estimated that around 30 percent of dental surgeries still use amalgam fillings which contain mercury, putting their mercury concentration levels up to 25 as high as those that do not.

A highly toxic substance, mercury can be fatal if inhaled directly, and is harmful when absorbed. As well as in dental fillings, it is also used in medical equipment including thermometers and as a component of paint and batteries.

Long-term exposure to the chemical can cause symptoms including paralysis, insomnia and damage to vision and hearing but its real danger lies in the potential, and irreversible, harm to fetal and child development, particularly neurologically.

Kodeih said the government could do much more to try and control the problem, and bring Lebanon in line with other countries’ regulations.

“We call on the government to give high attention to this problem, and to set up the necessary legislation and national strategy and policy, and to take a more active role in international negotiations,” he said.

Mona Haddad, representing the Syndicate of Hospitals, said the cost of replacement and a lack of awareness of the dangers of mercury poisoning both played a large part in its continued use in hospital equipment, one of the major sources of demand for mercury-containing products.

“In major hospitals they do know about it, but if you go to the rural areas that’s where you see a lack,” she said.

Haddad said Lebanon lacks basic regulation over mercury disposal, which means it is often dumped and ultimately enters the water system.

Haddad said Lebanon could look to other countries for responsible disposal methods, particularly Sweden which is on track for a centralized collection point for mercury waste by 2015.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2012, on page 4.

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