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The results of nationwide tests in Pakistan have raised the alarm over the high levels of mercury pollution in dental hospitals. In some of the tested sites in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the amount of the toxic metal detected in the air was found to be up to 20 times higher than acceptable levels.

According to the monitoring team from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an independent development and policy analysis organisation in Islamabad, dental personal working in the affected facilities were recently informed about the results and given recommendations about safety measures. They were also advised on how to reduce the use of mercury in general.

Despite the availability of alternative filling materials such as composite resins, amalgam remains the most widely used dental restorative in Pakistan. Waste management of the material, however, has traditionally been poor. According to the results of a study conducted in 2007 by researchers from the Riphah International University’s dentistry college, over 90 per cent of dentists in the country still dispose of used amalgam through regular waste or the waste-water system. Only 1 in 20 dentists is reported to have an amalgam separator installed in their practice, mainly owing to financial constraints or a lack of knowledge regarding such measures.

Although studies in Europe have indicated that regular use of amalgam and its disposal do not pose significant health risks to dental personal, exposure to high levels of mercury has been proven to damage kidneys, the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.

“The health of staff working under these conditions will be impaired in the same way as that of dental nurses in Norway and New Zealand, for example, who were using copper amalgam a few decades ago,” commented amalgam expert Lars Hylander from Sweden. “Also, a recent EU study indicated substantial loss of IQ in European dentists due to mercury exposure.”

Final results from the project are expected to be published later this year after the testing in several cities has been completed. A first in Pakistan, it seeks to provide reliable data on indoor and outdoor mercury pollution throughout the Western Asian country. The project is being conducted in collaboration with the European Environmental Bureau and the Zero Mercury Working Group, a coalition of non-governmental organisations aimed at the reduction of mercury worldwide.

This article was originally published at: Dental Tribune International

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.