Environmental Issues > Health Main Page > All Health Documents

Mercury Contamination in Fish

Mercury in Medical and Dental Products

Do children's vaccines contain mercury?

All of the routine childhood immunizations are currently available in formulations that do not contain mercury or that contain only trace amounts. In the past, many vaccines contained a preservative called thimerosal, which contains ethyl mercury. But in the late 1990's, NRDC and others successfully pressed for the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines. The flu vaccine is the only routine childhood vaccine that still sometimes includes thimerosal. Parents can request the mercury-free version of this vaccine. Some of the combined diphtheria and tetanus vaccines may contain trace residues of thimerosal from the manufacturing process, but the amounts are extremely small.

I have heard that vaccines can cause autism. Is that true?

Medical scientists do not know what causes autism. Some people have speculated that vaccines containing thimerosal may be linked to this disease. Although a few studies have suggested such a link, the best studies so far have not found one. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science has reviewed the scientific evidence on this topic and concluded that probably no link exists between vaccines and autism. The epidemic of autism in the United States today is extremely serious and more research into possible environmental causes is imperative.

While the causes of autism remain unknown, there is no question that mercury is a neurotoxin which can cause serious harm to the developing nervous system. Children exposed to mercury early in life can develop neurological delays that may appear as subtle learning disabilities. Children's exposure to toxins such as mercury should be limited in every way possible, and the removal of mercury from childhood vaccines was an essential advance. As noted above, flu vaccines may still contain thimerosal but parents can request the mercury-free version.

Do thermometers containing mercury pose a health risk?

Direct exposure to mercury from a broken mercury fever thermometer can be dangerous, particularly for young children. If spills are not cleaned up properly, mercury vapors in the air can cause damage to the lungs, kidneys and brain when inhaled. Also, if a mercury thermometer ends up in a landfill or incinerator, the mercury will enter the environment and can find its way into our food supply through fish. Because of these risks, California and many cities and counties around the country now prohibit the sale of mercury thermometers.

Alternatives such as digital thermometers -- which are inexpensive, accurate, easy to use and less damaging to the environment than mercury thermometers -- are becoming increasingly popular.

What should I do if my mercury thermometer breaks?

Carefully sweep the little silver balls of mercury into a disposable plastic container and seal the container shut. Then take the container to your local household hazardous waste collection facility. Do not flush the mercury down the toilet, vacuum it up or dispose of it in the regular trash. If mercury spills on a carpet or rug, many experts recommend getting rid of these items, since mercury is extremely difficult to remove and will continue to vaporize into the air over time.

How should I dispose of my old mercury thermometer?

Many cities, as well as some hospitals and medical clinics, have programs that allow you to exchange your mercury thermometer for a free, digital replacement. Household hazardous waste collection facilities and many pharmacies also collect and safely dispose of mercury thermometers. For full details, see the blue pages of your phone book and contact your local health department.

Do dental fillings containing mercury pose a health risk?

Recent studies have shown that silver-colored dental fillings, which contain as much as 50 percent mercury by weight, can release mercury vapor -- particularly when they are new or when the wearer chews gum or food. Once inhaled, this vapor can be toxic to the lungs, kidneys, and brain -- particularly of infants and children. Pregnant women, or women planning to become pregnant within the next few months, should avoid getting mercury fillings. Swallowing filling fragments poses less risk of harm because metallic mercury is not as easily absorbed in the stomach and intestines.

Dentists' offices are a major source of mercury pollution in water. To prevent pollution, dentists who use mercury should always install an amalgam separator device in their offices. These devices filter the mercury out of wastewater so that it doesn't contaminate the water supply and eventually accumulate in the fish that we eat.

Should I have my mercury fillings removed?

Most experts agree that it is best to leave existing mercury fillings in place unless they need to be removed for other reasons. During removal, the heat of a dentist's drill can efficiently vaporize the mercury, resulting in significant inhalation of this toxic metal. In addition, the drill can chip out small bits of the filling, which become embedded in cheeks and gums. These chips can then release mercury directly into the body. So removing mercury fillings can actually increase your exposure to mercury.

Are mercury-free fillings available?

Yes. The most popular alternative to mercury fillings is composite fillings (which are often called "porcelain"). But these fillings, which contain a chemical called Bisphenol A, have their own potential health risks. Bisphenol A has been shown to be estrogenic in lab animals and cause disruptions in sexual development in male mice at exposure levels similar to those of people with composite fillings. More scientific research is needed to determine whether these fillings are preferable to mercury fillings. Gold fillings appear to be the safest alternative, but are considerably more expensive. It's best to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each option with your dentist.

  • Learn About Mercury and Its Effects
  • Know Where It's Coming From
  • Protect Yourself and Your Family
  • Working to Reduce Mercury Pollution
Information for Medical Professionals
All Tags [ View Popular Tags ]:
toxics
2
4-D
4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid
agriculture
air fresheners
air pollution
air pollution health impacts
air quality
alabama
alar
antibacterial
antibiotic resistance
antibiotics
arsenic
asbestos
asthma
atrazine
beaches
bees
birth defects
bottom trawling
BPA
bush administration
California
cancer
carbon pollution
chemicals
children
children's health
china
chlor-alkali plants
cigarette smoke
Clean Air Act
clean power plan
Clean Water Act
climate and health
climate and health risks
climate change
coal
coal-fired power plants
conditional registration
consequences
conservation and restoration
consumer products
costs of climate change
CPS
DanielleDroitsch
dengue
DianeBailey
diesel buses
diesel exhaust
disease
disease clusters
drilling
drinking water
drought
dust
endocrine disruptors
energy efficiency
environmental threats
EPA
exposure to chemicals
extreme weather
farming
farms
farmworkers
fashion
FDA
fda fails to protect
fda reform
Flame Retardants
flammability standards
flood
floods
florida
food
formaldehyde
fracking
gas drilling
global warming
global warming and health
global warming emissions
global warming legislation
groundwater
growing green awards
gulf of mexico
gulfspill
habitat protection
Harmful Algal Blooms
health effects
health effects of pollution
health impacts
heat waves
herbicides
Hexane
Hexavalent Chromium
hog farms
hormone-disrupting chemicals
human health
Hurricane Katrina
hurricanes
India
infectious diseases
integrated pest management
interviews
kids health
Kids' Health
KimKnowlton
latinos
lawn care
lead
lindane
livestock
livestock farms
louisiana
manure
maps
melting ice and glaciers
mercury
Methylene Chloride
minamata
MiriamRotkinEllman
mississippi
mold
nanotechnologies
nanotechnology
natural gas
nitrogen oxides
oil
oil drilling
oil spill
oil spills
organic
organic food
overfishing
ozone
ozone smog pollution
particulate pollution
PCBs
perchlorate
pesticide
pesticide alternatives
pesticides
pet products
PeteAltman
pharmaceuticals
photos
phthalates
pig farms
pollen
polluted runoff
pollution
poultry
power plants
public health
radon
record-high temperatures
renewable energy
respiratory illness
river flooding
rivers
safeguards
SB 147
SB 695
SB 772
schools
scientific research
seafood
sea-level rise
sewage
smog
smoke
soot
species protection
storms
sulfur dioxide
superbugs
TanjaSrebotnjak
tar sands
TB 117
TCE
TCEP
TDCP
tennessee
texas
textiles
toxic
toxic air pollution
toxic chemical risk assessments
toxic chemicals
toxic waste
toxics
Tricholoroethylene
triclosan
tsca
vehicles
Vinyl Chloride
Washington DC
water
water pollution
Water Pollution
water quality
weather
wetlands
what you can do
wildfires
wildlife
workers' health

Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter

See the latest issue >

Give the Gift That Will Make a Difference: A Long Cool Drink

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.


Donate now >

Related Stories

Simple Steps
A healthier you. A healthier home. A healthier Earth -- one step at a time.
Is Organic Food Worth It?
The short answer is yes -- get the lowdown from This Green Life.
Pet Products May Harm Both Pets and Humans
Poisons in many pet pesticide products are not safe for pets or humans.
Mercury Contamination
Share | |
Find NRDC on
YouTube