After a long silence on the question, the European Commission has just re-opened the debate on dental amalgam (better known as fillings). It has asked two of its expert committees to draft an opinion on the environmental and health risks from the use of dental amalgam(1). The Commission's final decision will depend on these reports, due to be finalised by mid-2014. It could also be influenced by recent developments in the international sphere, particularly the signature by 94 states parties (including the EU) of the first global legal instrument for the gradual prohibition of mercury (Minamata Convention).

Dental amalgam has been used for more than 150 years to treat cavities, due to its excellent mechanical properties and durability. It is composed of mercury, a chemical element known for its interesting physical and chemical characteristics, but also for its toxicity to humans, ecosystems and nature. It is estimated that around 20 tonnes a year are released into the atmosphere due to dental care, ie 14% of total emissions from human sources (estimated at 140 tonnes per year in 2010). France and Poland are the two largest consumers of dental amalgam.

In its 2005 mercury strategy, the Commission did not take a position on the question. Its two scientific committees - the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) - both backed this approach in 2008, finding that the use of dental amalgam containing mercury did not pose serious or long-term threats to health, apart from allergies.

Over the years, however, calls for a prohibition have become more pressing. In 2011, the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation calling for "the restriction or even a prohibition of amalgam as a dental material". The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the use of alternatives. In 2010 and 2012, an external consultant, BIO Intelligence Service, drew up two reports...

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