Mercury poison alert at Scarborough’s crematorium

Mercury filtration equipment is to be installed at Woodlands Crematorium. Picture by Neil Silk.
Mercury filtration equipment is to be installed at Woodlands Crematorium. Picture by Neil Silk.

Measures are being introduced at Woodlands Crematorium to prevent harmful mercury used in dental fillings from contaminating the atmosphere when bodies are cremated.

Scarborough Council has agreed to push forward with plans to build a £640,000 extension that will house specialist filtration equipment to meet Government and European Union environmental targets.

Mercury emissions have no significant impact on the local environment, says the authority, but there is concern about the cumulative effect nationally.

The chemical can find its way to the sea and be ingested by fish, which, if eaten, could have a harmful effect on humans.

Cllr Bill Chatt, cabinet member for public health and housing, said: “When people pass away the amalgam used in silver fillings is still there so when their bodies are cremated it goes up the chimney causing pollution.

“We therefore need to install a filtering system. It will be far better for the atmosphere and the human species.”

Crematoria are responsible for 13 per cent of mercury emissions nationally. In a bid to tackle the issue the Government passed legislation requiring all of the UK’s crematoria to reduce emissions by half.

Cllr Chatt said: “We don’t want to put poison the atmosphere and anything we can do to reduce that is better.

“Modern white fillings don’t contain mercury so I think in the future it’s going to be a self-defeating problem but at the moment we are trying to deal with it as best we can.”

The authority’s leader, Cllr Tom Fox, rubber-stamped the proposals on Friday and the scheme is set to be introduced by next April.

Opened in 1961, Woodlands Crematorium carries out around 1,200 cremations a year.

Mercury still used in fillings

Dentist Dr John Taylor, of John Taylor Dental Care, in York Place, Scarborough, said: “The silver amalgam filling is still a standard material that is considered safe for use in the mouth.

“There was a recent world convention on amalgam use which recommended that it should be phased down, so where possible to use white filling materials instead. However, there isn’t a white filling material at the moment that’s as straight forward to use, particularly in difficult situations.

“We tend to use white fillings for teeth that haven’t been filled before. But there are a lot of older people keeping their teeth for life and their fillings need replacing, whereas 20 years ago they would have had dentures. That’s what has become the problem.”

Amalgam fillings are made from a mixture of metals including mercury, silver, tin, copper and zinc.