A mouth full of mercury!

By Robert Sturdy MEPI HATE going to the dentist. However, the other day in an Environment Committee meeting in Brussels, when it felt like a hedgehog was trying to escape from my tooth, I realised I had no choice but to put myself at the mercy of a very competent man named Pierre.

By Robert Sturdy MEP

I HATE going to the dentist. However, the other day in an Environment Committee meeting in Brussels, when it felt like a hedgehog was trying to escape from my tooth, I realised I had no choice but to put myself at the mercy of a very competent man named Pierre.

The tooth in question was removed with a minimum of fuss, but Pierre, the dentist, was horrified at what he discovered. “Your teeth monsieur,” he pronounced, “they are très dangerous.”

I've been accused of many things in my time as a MEP, but never of having dangerous teeth. They may not be perfect, but I felt this was unmerited. Pierre the dentist went on to explain that he wasn't criticising my dental hygiene, but was instead expressing surprise at the amount of amalgam fillings I have.


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Amalgam contains mercury and has been banned from fillings in Belgium and other countries for safety reasons. Pierre told me it was imperative to replace the amalgam immediately, and soon he had a small bag of my fillings in a "waste disposal package". This package was handled with gloves and dealt with as if it were nuclear waste. How could something too dangerous to be put in a dustbin have happily lived in my mouth for so long?

And it plainly does not make sense to ban the use of mercury in barometers. Thankfully, Conservative MEPs this week stopped this from happening, saving the traditional British barometer from extinction. This followed a proposed law in the European Parliament to outlaw the use of mercury in the ancient weather instrument. Although mercury can be toxic to humans, eco-systems and wildlife, it can still be safely used in barometer manufacturer and repair.

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Returning home, I discovered that amalgam was still used for fillings in the UK as scientific experts around the world have concluded there is no safety risk. That's good enough for me, I just wish someone had told Pierre before he turned my mouth into a war zone. However, the way the fillings were disposed of made me wonder if similar care was taken over waste disposal in the UK.

The UK's record on these issues is not great, and the amount of dangerous waste being produced is increasing. Dangerous substances, like mercury, are being released into the atmosphere and not enough is being done about it.

The EU, often pushed by the European Parliament, has done a huge amount to improve environmental standards. Getting this type of legislation right is very tricky; there is a fine balance to be struck between the economic cost of doing something and the environmental benefits. It requires careful study of what works, how to involve interest groups and business and how to ensure that the legislation has the effect it is intended to. The Environment Committee is currently considering legislation about waste, which aims to simplify existing structures, clarify previous definitions and ensure that the objective of reducing environmental impacts is met.

This is important stuff and should actually reduce our impact on the environment. We need to balance, and keep, idealism for reducing our impact on the planet with a realistic notion of what we are really prepared to do for the environment in our everyday lives. Good environmental legislation combined with public commitment will do much more than any number of speeches about climate change. If all we ever do is talk about tackling global warming we'll be left with nothing but hot air.

Robert Sturdy is a Conservative Euro MP for the East of England, a member of the environment and public health committee and Conservative Spokesman on International Trade

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