The Minamata Convention on Mercury: a breakthrough for the dental profession

Heads of State and government ministers delegates to the Conference of Plenipotentiaries to be held in Minamata and Kumamoto, Japan, from 9 to 11 October 2013, will be putting their first signatures to the ‘Minamata Convention on Mercury’. Ninety days after the fiftieth signature, the Convention will come into force.

The Minamata Convention is a triumph of commitment to protect the health of the world’s population from mercury pollution and of compromise and consensus among members of the United Nations Environment Programme, which was the forum within which it was negotiated. It is also a breakthrough for FDI, its member national dental associations and its partners in oral health, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Association of Dental Research (IADR) and International Dental Manufacturers (IDM). I would like to thank all members of the dental sector for their dedication and determination during the three-year negotiating process.

Their participation at every stage has demonstrated how strong the voice of dentistry can be when focused on an issue of concern, governed by a coherent strategy and articulated in support of precise objectives. It was certainly gratifying, even at a relatively late stage, to see consensus among governments consensus develop around the phase-down approach to dental amalgam—advocated by FDI, WHO, IADR and IDM—during the fifth and last meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Mercury (INC5).

For the dental profession, the Minamata Convention on Mercury is not an end-point. On the contrary, it is the beginning of a huge opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to public health and the environment by advocating a new approach to oral health, based on phasing down the use of amalgam, promoting research into new dental materials, managing dental amalgam waste and reducing the need for restorative dental care through prevention.

This is not something that we cannot delay: regions and countries are still moving forward with their separate investigations into the environmental impact of mercury releases and emissions from dental amalgam. At the end of June, for example, the European commission Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) issued an update on its ‘Preliminary Opinion on the environmental risks and indirect health effects of mercury from dental amalgam’, first issued in 2008.

With this in mind, FDI is developing an advocacy toolkit for members of the dental profession on the contents of the Minamata Convention on Mercury and how each individual can contribute towards implementing the profession’s commitments. The guidelines also detail how to explain the provisions of the Convention on dental amalgam to health officials, members of the media and the general public.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this Convention is to the dental profession and I encourage you read the advocacy toolkit and, where applicable, act upon its advice and recommendations.

Meanwhile, I will be representing FDI at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Minamata Convention on Mercury and look forward to reporting back to you on the perceptions and exchanges I had there with governmental and non-governmental representatives.

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