Millions Could Be Included
In Mercury Fillings Lawsuit

TORONTO (CP) -- A group of dental patients filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday asking to represent millions of Canadians with mercury fillings in their mouths. The lawsuit could become one of the largest in Canadian history if the courts allow every Canadian with mercury fillings who was not warned of potential health risks to participate.
"It could be billions of dollars," said David Himelfarb, the lawyer bringing the action forward against the Canadian government, provincial dental associations and dental manufacturers Dentsply International and Johnson and Johnson. The motion before the general division of Ontario Court seeks some damages but is mainly asking that the costs of having the fillings removed be covered.
Himelfarb represents a countrywide group of dental patients -- about 8,000 -- who've had or still have the widely used silver-colored fillings. It's been estimated that 23 million Canadians have fillings, 85 per cent of them filled with mercury amalgams.
Himelfarb's group, Canadians for Mercury Relief, asked court for a broad definition of eligible participants in the lawsuit. It's hoping any Canadian who wasn't told of the dangers of the fillings -- regardless of whether they suffered health problems -- be included in the lawsuit.
Effects of exposure to mercury have ranged from memory lapses to hot flashes and paralysis, a news conference announcing the lawsuit was told. Medical research has also suggested links to Alzheimer's Disease, the group said. "My life is hell," said Kathryn Corbeil, a member of the public who attended the news conference to find out more about mercury fillings.
"I'm a total recluse. It took a lot for me to come today," said the 46-year-old, pulling at her lip with an index finger to show the teeth that once were 95 per cent filled with mercury amalgams. "I had one side removed last summer and spent $2,300." Corbeil complained of chronic headaches, migraines and neck problems. "I always knew it was my teeth but nobody would listen."
Health Minister Allan Rock said Tuesday he has yet to read any study that shows mercury fillings are a health hazard. "We're going to be responding to the class action and we'll make our position clear in court," he said outside a cabinet meeting in Ottawa. In a policy statement, Health Canada said mercury fillings are not causing illness in the general population, and "a total ban ... is not considered justified. Neither is the removal of sound amalgam fillings in patients who have no indication of adverse health effects attributable to mercury exposure."
Health Canada acknowledges dental amalgam is the largest single source of mercury exposure for average Canadians. The mercury-based material should be avoided in young children, pregnant women and people with kidney problems, it advises. University of Calgary medical researcher Dr. Murray Vimy, who is not part of the lawsuit, said based on ongoing scientific studies, mercury fillings "should be taken off the market." The Canadian Dental Association disagreed on Tuesday, saying such reports were unsubstantiated and the only people at risk were those with allergies to mercury. "The record has shown (amalgam) is the most durable, cost-effective dental material that we've ever had," said executive director Jardine Neilson. "If it hadn't been for amalgam, there'd be a lot of Canadians and people around the world walking around without teeth."

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