The Minamata convention effectively outlaws the mining, sale and production of mercury, and the support of industry that uses any levels of mercury. The aim of this convention was to completely eradicate mercury from industry, and to stop its use as an industrial chemical, with specific guidelines towards easing the participating countries off of the use of this deadly chemical. One of the industries affected by this is dentistry, as that staple of old time dentistry, amalgam fillings, which is still a very important part of conservative dentistry in most poorer countries, is made of mercury, among other metals. This means that amalgam fillings will be banned.
Amalgam negatively affects the central nervous system, causing all kinds of neurological decay and cognitive dysfunctions. Miners who are exposed to high level of mercury suffer from an itching or burning sensation under the skin, also from the skin coming off of the body (desquamation), and a loss of hair, teeth and skin. Hypertension and an irregular heart beat are also common, as is muscle weakness and various kinds of rashes. It is easy to see just form these symptoms why this material is now banned. Aside from protecting miners and people who live near mercury mines that contaminate drinking water, people who have amalgam fillings are also at risk, as amalgam fillings tend to leak mercury into the host body, where it stays for a long time.
Aside from other heavy metals that are also released into the mouth and absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth, mercury leaches from amalgam fillings over time. Although this leaching isn’t too bad, the problem with mercury is that it is not dissolved by the body, but slowly builds up over time, causing ever worsening and worsening symptoms. The material is also extremely difficult to remove, although it can be treated with various kinds of antidotes.
It is clear that aside form a general environmental and worker protection issue, there is a clear public health issue with mercury as well. Although most Western countries have signed on to the Minamata convention (that came about in Japan to compensate the victims of mercury overdose as an effort to ban the world wide use of mercury), many still have not, and most third world countries still haven’t.