The environment is a topic at the forefront, thanks to the upcoming US Presidential Elections and the recent global phenomenon of Greta Thunberg. No matter what your stance is on global warming and the world’s carbon footprint, you are impacted by new regulations and rulings that affect the way you dispose and handle the waste.
According to the EPA, there are approximately 5.1 tons of mercury and 5.3 tons of other metals being discharged by dentists yearly to POTWs1. Would it surprise you to know that most of this mercury is subsequently released into the environment? Dental offices are the single largest source of mercury at sewage treatment plants2.
What happens to the amalgam waste that becomes part of the POTW’s sewage sludge? It’s disposed of in one of three ways2:
• In landfills. If the amalgam waste is sent to a landfill, the mercury may be released into the groundwater or air.
• Through incineration. If the mercury is incinerated, mercury may be emitted to the air from the incinerator stacks.
• By applying the sludge to agricultural land as fertilizer. If mercury-contaminated sludge is used as an agricultural fertilizer, some of the mercury used as fertilizer may also evaporate into the atmosphere.
After knowing these facts, the recent final ruling on amalgam separators by the EPA may make more sense to you. The compliance date for existing dental practices and businesses is July 14, 2020. The EPA estimates that approximately 103,000 USA dental offices use or remove amalgam1.
Amalgam is considered safe for its treatment purposes by the ADA and the EPA. It’s been used in dentistry for more than 150 years, and gold is the only material that has been used longer for dental purposes.
How will the use of an Amalgam Separator benefit the environment? The key is keeping as much amalgam and waste out of the POTW’s sewage sludge as possible. Amalgam Separators offer an efficient way to separate and collect dental amalgam, mercury, teeth fragments, and other dental waste. Designed to capture amalgam particles from dental office wastewater through sedimentation, filtration, centrifugation, or a combination of these mechanisms.3
What are the facts you need to identify when choosing an Amalgam Separator to meet compliance? First, know the requirements that the system needs to meet set in the EPA ruling. 4Chart
•Ensure the removal of dental amalgam solids from all amalgam process wastewater via amalgam separator(s) or equivalent device(s) that achieve at least a 95% removal efficiency and meet EPA standards set by the final rule 441.40.
•Comply with reporting requirements. See 441.50(a).
•Maintain and make available for individual inspection records documenting compliance. See § 441.50(b).
When choosing an Amalgam Separator for your practice, do your research online, speak with your colleagues, and your trusted dealer rep. Become familiar with your state or local requirements as those might be sterner than those in the rule. Learn about installation requirements set by your municipality. Lastly, be ready to commit to a recycling program. The collection containers must be recycled appropriately to comply. Many manufacturers, including Air Techniques, offer a recycling program. This is often part of the collection container purchase, resulting in a seamless process for dental facilities.
3. Chou HN, Anglen J. An evaluation of amalgam separators. J Am Dent Assoc 2012;143(8):920-21.