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Making Sense of the Minamata Treaty for Dentists Across the Globe

September 22, 2023

It is an unfortunate reality that a disaster is often the catalyst for change within an industry. With respect to dentistry today, it was the mercury poisoning that resulted from discharged industrial wastewater that devastated Japa’s Minamata Bay in the 1950s. Part of this devastation included horrific human health consequences for those who lived there. 

Of course, as with any major environmental issue, the effects of this mercury poisoning remain an issue, one that the international community is increasingly determined to do something about, by preventing another such occurrence in the future. 

Discover how the international community — and even Hollywood — has responded, along with what this response requires of dental practitioners worldwide.

The Minamata Convention 

Despite the fact that disaster struck Minamata Bay during the 1950s, it wasn’t until January 19, 2013 that the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, was agreed upon. Its goal is to reduce or eliminate the use of mercury in products like dental amalgam. It will take global awareness and action to enact effective remediation and realize this goal. 


Since mercury has no trouble traveling via air and water, it can easily traverse thousands of miles as a pollutant. In fact, some studies cite global sources as accounting for approximately 70% of the mercury found in the United States.

In other words, we’re all in this together. 

What are the effects of mercury poisoning?  

When the mercury spilling from industrial wastewater polluted Minamata Bay in the 1950s, the pollutant accumulated in the area’s fish and shellfish, resulting in severe illness for anyone who had consumed them. In some cases, the illness proved fatal or caused life-altering disabilities.

Taisuke Mitarai, having been diagnosed with Minamata disease, explains: “People don’t know the true extent of the suffering. They have barely scratched the surface. Even after what happened here there was another case of mercury poisoning in Niigata (in northern Japan). There are still many people here who live isolated, difficult lives. People need to be reminded of that.”  

To witness the devastating effects of mercury poisoning in Minamata, click the link to watch a video produced by the United Nations:

Mercury and Minamata Disease: a Lesson from Japan.

Today, approximately 3,000 people continue to suffer from Minamata disease; however, this population is likely underrepresented as many cases are suspected to have gone unreported.

As Shinobu Sakamoto, another Minamata disease survivor, attests: “Minamata disease isn’t over; it’s not a thing of the past.” 

In fact, the gruesome reality of the Minamata disaster recently captured the attention of Hollywood, which released the theatrical film, Minamata, starring box office heavyweights Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy. Watch the trailer here.  

As the international community and even creative professionals call attention to the plight of those suffering from mercury poisoning due to the Minamata disaster, the real question is what does this mean for dental professionals? 

What are the expectations for dental professionals as outlined by the Minamata Convention?

Complying with the Minamata Convention is a two-fold task. 

In the immediate sense, you must ensure that the mercury found in the dental amalgam you use is properly stored before being disposed of safely

Taking a longer view, dental professionals must remember that the overarching intention of the Minamata Convention is to phase out or significantly reduce the amount of mercury used in dental amalgam. Not a small, but certainly a necessary feat knowing what we now know about mercury poisoning. 

If you’re wondering how to do this, don’t worry. That’s why we’re here and getting started really couldn’t be easier. 

Just sign the program through SADA by March 31st, 2024 to qualify for your FREE unit and introductory annual service contract pricing. 

After that, our local installation partner, Wright Millners, will contact you to schedule your shipment and installation. If you want to use Wright Millners, please note that in the “Message” section of the form so they can provide you with a quote directly.

Not an SADA member?  Contact us directly to find out how we can help your practice and country adhere to upcoming regulations and provide sustainable solutions for proper recycling of amalgam.

Learn more by visiting our website or you can always reach out to Marc directly by emailing: or by calling 1-800-360-1001.