A Mountain by Any Other Name...

Letters from the week of April 24, 2003

Katherine Wing

Food for Thought

Sweet and sour: I'm wondering if perhaps Carey Sweet might consider a journal. Perhaps a support group, or even one of those "blogs" that have become all the rage. Perhaps then Ms. Sweet would have an outlet to the world for her personal issues instead of injecting them into her Cafe column.

In the past few months, Ms. Sweet's columns have grown curiouser and curiouser. Late last year I spent some time wondering why I knew so much about Ms. Sweet's car troubles and what they had to do with Peruvian dining. That was followed by a beguiling rant about Qwest, which, although I sympathized with, I had trouble placing the connection between the pagelong diatribe and whichever restaurant she was reviewing. Shortly thereafter Ms. Sweet made her infamous assault on raw food, and spent more of her article demeaning a lifestyle than reviewing a restaurant, followed by a puzzling assault on dog food. I certainly support Ms. Sweet finding any restaurant lacking in quality; however, I surely don't think that one's distaste for a movie should be either the cause of such a finding, or the basis of an article on dining. For goodness' sake, can someone please rein Ms. Sweet in?

Amanda Blum

Mercury Rising

Toxic avenger: Thank you for a most interesting and educating article ("Dentist the Menace," Speakeasy, Robrt L. Pela, April 10). Finally, someone should bring this issue up.

Considering the effect of mercury exposure (from mercury amalgams, as well as from other sources), the public must soon be made aware of this enormous medical and environmental issue. And the FDA, along with the EPA, should put a stop to spreading more mercury in our environment.

I have never been able to locate a comment explaining just how mercury leaking from mercury amalgam fillings can be so harmless, while mercury in our waters, and fish, is so dangerous. Could someone address such questions to the FDA? There are countries in Europe that have come much farther in prohibiting this highly toxic material. Why is the U.S. so far behind?

Boris Dragin
Via e-mail

You're not a dentist, but do you play one on TV?: Well, okay. That got a laugh from me. I am not a dentist, nor am I a chemist. It is obvious from the article that you are simply letting Charlie Brown hoist himself by his own petard, so to speak. This man seems to be another conspiracy nut -- if it weren't for his rantings, some of his points might actually get through.

I remember learning in basic chemistry that there are essentially three states of matter (we will ignore, for this discussion, plasmas and Bose-Einstein condensates): solid, liquid and gas. These states are passed through by most matter, depending mainly on external temperature and pressure, as well as by the chemical makeup of the matter. For example, water is a liquid at room temperature, at normal air pressure. Lower the air pressure enough, and it will boil without heat. Raise the pressure, and it takes more heat to boil. Drop the temperature, water freezes (turns crystalline in structure and becomes a solid), heat it high enough, and it turns into a gas (steam).

All forms of matter have these properties (don't try to correct me with something like dry ice -- yeah, under normal pressure and temperature it sublimes, going from solid to gas nearly instantaneously -- but it is possible to have liquid CO2 with the right pressure). When these state changes occur, there is no loss of matter -- the amount remains the same.

Robrt Pela is correct: If the mercury in our mouths is changing into a gas, and it is exhaled, or consumed, then that amount does leave the filling, and thus there should be less of the filling remaining. How much less, though, is anybody's guess. I would think the difference would be near negligible, and it would only be detectable within a proper experimental setting with very accurate measuring instruments.

I don't know if there have been any studies on this, Charlie. You don't seem to think so. I would think such an experiment would be rather easy to run -- start with an amalgam sample, weigh it before, let it sit, weigh it after. If you want to know how fast the mercury is subliming, weigh it continuously and take sample measurements.

All of this does, of course, assume that the mercury is not somehow chemically bound to the rest of the ingredients in the amalgam. Like I said, I am not a chemist, so I don't know. But it should be simple enough to figure out. I outlined a simple method above that doesn't rely on homeopathic tests of any sort, and can be repeated by just about anyone with an accurate lab-grade scale.

So, Charlie, try it -- and retry it. Have your friends try it. Run the experiment, put the scientific method to work. Write the paper, publish it -- and then you will have my attention.

Until then, quit your fear-mongering.

Andrew L. Ayers

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