An early Christmas gift arrived last week: The EPA finalized its new rule for reducing mercury discharges from dental offices.
That mercury, of course, comes courtesy of the amalgam used to make so-called “silver” fillings. Amalgam is about 50% mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Strict safety protocols are needed whenever it’s handled, but these – unfortunately – are still not the norm.
This is exactly why the EPA’s rule is so welcome – more than two years after they first proposed it.
By the end of 2019, all dental offices that place or remove amalgam must have amalgam separators that are up to standard. If they’re not up to standard, they must be replaced. These devices use gravity to collect solid waste so it can be properly disposed. Newer models can keep up to 99% of mercury from entering the sewer system – along with the silver, copper, zinc, and other metals that make up amalgam.
“Amalgam separators,” notes the EPA,
are a practical, affordable and readily available technology for capturing mercury and other metals before they are discharged into sewers that drain to POTWs [publicly owned treatment works]. Once captured by a separator, mercury can be recycled.
EPA expects compliance with this final rule will annually reduce the discharge of mercury by 5.1 tons as well as 5.3 tons of other metals found in waste dental amalgam to POTWs.
While an estimated 40% of dental offices already have separators installed – either voluntarily or due to state or local regulations – this new rule will mean that all dentists who regularly handle amalgam will have them, more than 100,000 dental offices in all.
Additionally, offices will be required to collect and recycle all scrap amalgam, and clean all chairside traps with non-bleach, non-chlorine cleanser (to prevent mercury release). Certification is required.
Really, this is just common sense. We’ve followed such safety protocols for years. So have other mercury-safe, biological dental practices around the country. More, we go above and beyond them, dedicated to protecting our patients and staff, as well as the planet.
But amalgam separators for all is another important step forward toward a mercury-free future for dentistry.
Image by NovemberElla