23 December 1999
MINISTRY OF HEALTH PLAYS RUSSIAN ROULETTE, AGAIN!
In the continuing controversy surrounding amalgam fillings, Graham Capill, leader of the Christian Heritage Party,
revealed that the Ministry of Health has finally admitted its negligence in the matter.
Six months after the initial request under the Official Information Act, and only after the intervention of the Office
of the Ombudsman, has the government come clean on its failure to implement the 1997 recommendations of the report
Dental Amalgam and Human Health – Current Situation (30 June 1997).
Due to public concerns about the dangers of dental amalgam to health practitioners, the government commissioned a report
by four experts on the subject. The result was a lengthy document at the core of which were seven recommendations.
Whether the government actually picked up on any of these recommendations was asked by the Christian Heritage Party
under the provisions of the Official Information Act in May of this year.
After dragging its feet and initially stonewalling Christian Heritage requests, the government, only a few days before
Christmas, has belatedly confessed that only two of the recommendations were accepted and that the five ‘other
recommendations in the report were not accepted or implemented’.
The two proposals accepted called for the establishment of a group to monitor scientific literature and the policies of
other countries with respect to the dental amalgam.
Meanwhile, other significant proposals recommending that the “relevant Occupational and Safety Health regulations should
be enforced for dental personnel,” and that “medical records of individuals undergoing amalgam replacement therapy
should be monitored,” were ignored to the detriment of both dentists and the public.
What initially prompted my enquiries,” noted Mr Capill, “were concerns raised by members of the public over the previous
government’s inaction. Now Labour seems determined to continue National’s cavalier attitude towards New Zealanders’
Mr Capill also stated that he was appalled that, having asked the experts, the government in its wisdom decided to
ignore most of their recommendations. “Recommendations I might add which are designed to provide solid data on the
effects of dental amalgam and protect dentists and dental assistants and their patients from exposure to mercury,” he
This latest incident follows an earlier government directive in March of this year, when dentists were advised by the
Ministry that because of the high toxicity of dental amalgam “it would be prudent to avoid, where clinically reasonable,
the placement or removal of amalgam fillings during pregnancy.” The Ministry, therefore, asked dentists to take this
into account in their assessment of patient needs. The Christian Heritage Party discovered, however, under the Official
Information Act, that the Ministry of Health had been sitting on this information since the British Department of
Health’s decision was publicised in December 1997, nearly 15 months.
“When will the government take this matter seriously?” asked Mr Capill. “The potential problem is greater than the
Ministry would have the public believe, as most New Zealanders over the age of 30 years have multiple dental amalgams
and it is estimated that as a total population we have between 20 to 40 million amalgam fillings.”
Mercury makes up 50% of amalgam fillings and is more toxic than Lead and Arsenic. Low grade chronic mercury intoxication
has been associated with symptoms of anxiety, irritability, outbursts of temper, stress intolerance and depression. At a
more serious level mercury has been implicated in kidney disease in animals.
While conclusive proof for a direct causal link between some of these health problems has thus far eluded researchers
there is enough cautionary evidence to lead a number of Western European nations throughout the 1990s to initiate
phasing-out programmes of all new amalgam fillings and undertake recommendations similar to those made by the panel of
experts in 1997.
The Ministry of Health needs to be taking a more pro-active approach to the issue rather than its customary
Contact: Party Leader Graham Capill (021) 661 766