Thursday, August 05, 2010

Smells like mercury spirit

A lovely and pristine mercury detection unit has come to us from the Oregon Academy of General Dentistry, complete with the kind of supporting documents a donee lays awake at night hoping for: what, when, who, why, how all happily answered.

The what is a Bacharach Mercury Sniffer Model MV2, which measures mercury vapor concentrations in milligrams per cubic meter. When? The instruction manual has a revision date of July 1977 and a separate, single-sheet instruction list refers to an article from the Journal of the Oregon Dental Association from Fall 1981. The last servicing date on the unit itself is 11-22-82.

Who? The single-page instruction sheet was prepared by the OAGD, and accompanied the unit which was intended to circulate throughout the state, with each dentist keeping it for no more than two days to complete a scan of the office before sending it on to the next practitioner on the list. We have a portion of the routing list, for Washington County, showing exactly which dentists had received the device.

The local connection continues closer to (our) home: the article referenced in the data sheet is by none other than John C. (Jack) Mitchem, then professor of dental materials at the OHSU School of Dentistry. "Mercury and dental practice" provides basic information on mercury hygiene and spill response procedures in the dental office.

Why is provided by a memo from the national Academy of General Dentistry to all chapter presidents, editors, and public information officers dated March 13, 1984, highlighting some recent news coverage of the issue and concluding "As you can see, mercury toxicity is indeed an issue!" [emphasis in original]

How it came back to the OAGD is a little story itself: new staff member Jessica Smith tells us that her successor, Bernie Taylor, received it as a retirement gift from Dr. Puffer. Who knows where it has been all this time? Two days, indeed! But a story that will seem very familiar to many librarians across the land....

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