Op-ed: Linda Maio is not the best environmental candidate

The Sierra Club Bay Chapter made a big mistake when it endorsed incumbent Linda Maio for Berkeley City Council.

In 2013, Maio led the move to gut a proposed ordinance that would have improved the information that dental patients receive about mercury dental amalgam fillings. She killed the mandates that two Berkeley commissions had spent six months crafting, which included informed consent for dental patients and signage requirements for dental offices.

Pro-environment Councilmember Arreguín and others tried to continue the issue for further study, but Maio, in her leadership role as Vice-Mayor, convinced the majority to drop it.

Mercury is an environmental problem that will continue to grow, like carbon dioxide, even if all releases were halted today. Dental offices are the second largest consumer of mercury in the U.S.  Crematoria are major sources of mercury air pollution. Mercury dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury, continuously off-gas mercury vapor, a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for fetuses, children, and people with genetic susceptibilities. Our residents deserve this information upon any visit to a dental office.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the American Dental Association (ADA) is a “heavy-hitter on the Washington political scene,” armed with revenues from its “Seal of Acceptance” program for consumer goods like toothpaste. The California Dental Association, the state arm of the ADA, is a similar force in Sacramento, powerful enough to convince our state legislators and their friends at city hall to leave dentists alone.

Yard signs touting the Sierra Club endorsement currently give voters the false impression that Linda Maio, the incumbent for City Council District 1, is the best environmental candidate. In fact, the challenger, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, is endorsed by socially and environmentally conscious groups, including the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, the Alameda County Green Party, and the California Nurses Association.

The mercury issue will likely arise again next year, pending an Attorney General report on how cities can protect the health and welfare of their residents without encroaching on state jurisdiction. Cities will need elected officials with enough integrity to withstand Sacramento politics and to put public health ahead of the powerful but backward dental industry.

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Kristin Homme, MPP, MPH is a retired engineer who has chronic mercury toxicity and who facilitates a support group for this illness. Her peer-reviewed article, "New science challenges old notion that mercury dental amalgam is safe," was published in February 2014 in the journal Biometals. Sandra Nixon, MS, is an environmental activist who has chronic mercury toxicity and multiple chemical sensitivities. Both women serve on the steering committee of the Bay Area Mercury Awareness Coalition.