This past Friday, a requirement went into effect after years of research and concerns about mercury pollution from dental offices. All offices that regularly handle mercury amalgam now must have amalgam separators installed to keep this neurotoxin out of waste water.
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.
If this sounds a little familiar, it should. We blogged about it last December, after the rule became final. Unfortunately, a January government freeze on new regulations blocked it – until the National Resources Defense Council filed suit.
The rule has since been restored, and we can celebrate it for real this time!
In general, amalgam – which is 50% mercury and one of the most potent neurotoxins of all – is often not disposed of correctly by dental offices. The result is massive pollution of our water systems and its downstream effects.
The main concern with emissions to water is related to the well-known potential of methylmercury – an organic form of mercury – to bioaccumulate (build up inside an organism) and biomagnify (build up along the food chain). All forms of mercury can accumulate in organisms, but methylmercury is taken up at a faster rate than other forms and bioaccumulates to a greater extent. As a result, methylmercury can become increasingly concentrated in aquatic organisms and result in high levels of exposure for fish-eating animals and for humans.
Under the new rule, issued under the Clean Water Act, “Dental offices that place or remove amalgam must operate and maintain an amalgam separator and must not discharge scrap amalgam or use certain kinds of line cleaners.” They have three years to comply.
Meanwhile, in just a little less than a month, the Minamata Convention on Mercury will enter into force. This global agreement to reduce mercury usage includes initiatives to phase down the use of dental mercury.
As part of this effort, a new EU mercury regulation plans to prohibit the use of dental mercury amalgam for vulnerable populations (pregnant or breastfeeding women, children under 15 years old), require amalgam separators in dental offices, and provide for discussion about ending dental mercury use in the European Union by 2030.
Such measures benefit dental workers, their patients, everyone, and everything in our communities.
Hopefully, they’ll put momentum behind many other beneficial policy changes to come.
Developed from IAOMT news release