The Environmental Impacts of Improperly Handled Mercury Waste
Amy Gagne, RDHEF, Solmetex’s vice president of clinical affairs and education, sheds light on the environmental effects of dental mercury waste and provides recommendations for safe and compliant handling of this hazardous material.
The effects of improperly handled and discarded mercury can affect everything from the atmosphere to ground water. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dentists are the leading nonindustrial disposer of mercury waste in the US.1 Dental amalgam fillings — which contain equal parts liquid mercury and a powder composed of a mixture of metals — are the primary source of this waste. The fillings need to be disposed of safely to prevent environmental harm. Other sources of dental amalgam waste include saliva from patients who have amalgam fillings and waste items contaminated with amalgam.
Dimensions of Dental Hygiene reached out to Amy Gagne, RDHEF, Solmetex’s vice president of clinical affairs and education, for her expertise on the environmental impacts of mercury in dentistry and her recommendations for safe and compliant handling of mercury waste.
Why should dental offices be concerned about how they handle mercury waste?
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can have harmful effects on child development, ecosystems, and wildlife when released into the environment. Improper handling and disposal of mercury waste from dental offices can contribute to water and air pollution, leading to contamination of water bodies and potential harm to aquatic life.
By responsibly managing mercury waste, dental offices can minimize their environmental footprint and help protect the environment. There is an existing regulation called the “Dental Effluent Guidelines,” also known as the “Dental Amalgam Rule,” which was issued by the EPA. This rule focuses on the reduction of mercury discharges from dental offices into publicly owned treatment works or wastewater treatment systems. The steps mandated by the EPA Dental Amalgam Rule will keep dental offices in compliance.
What efforts can dental offices make to ensure responsible recycling of mercury?
Clinicians who are familiar with and abide by the EPA Dental Amalgam Rule will be well prepared to ensure their offices are appropriately capturing and recycling amalgam waste, disposing of amalgam materials, and cleaning evacuation lines properly to reduce the amount of amalgam waste produced.
Can you explain the four components of the EPA Dental Amalgam Rule guidelines?
Most dental offices are aware of the “amalgam capture and recycle” portion of the EPA Dental Rule; however, many are not familiar with the other three components. First, regulation requires the use of an ISO 11143 certified amalgam separator with a separation rate of 95% or greater.
Along with amalgam capture and recycle, dental offices need to collect amalgam solids in an amalgam bucket for the recycling of chairside traps, vacuum filters, extracted teeth with amalgam, spent amalgam capsules, and all contact and noncontact amalgam. These buckets need to be recycled once a year or when full. There are a variety of sizes available to fit every office’s needs.
The third part of the EPA Rule is to use and run a neutral pH vacuum line cleaner through the evacuation lines every evening. The fourth and final part of the rule is to keep records of this maintenance protocol for 3 years.
What should dental offices look for when selecting a provider or a company to assist in this area of the practice?
I would look for a company that has been in the amalgam capture and recycling space for a long time. The company should have superior customer support, an all-in-one solution to make the process simple, no hidden costs for recycling or shipping, and 24/7 access to the practice’s recycling certificates.
For your protection, the health of the community, and EPA compliance, it’s important to ensure your office is capturing and recycling amalgam correctly. To learn more information about the safe and proper handling of dental mercury waste, visit https://www.epa.gov/mercury/mercury-dental-amalgam.
Amy Gagne, RDHEF, is vice president of clinical affairs and education for Solmetex. With more than 25 years of experience in dentistry, Gagne has always recognized the importance of bringing quality, safe, and user-friendly technology to the dental team. She has built hygiene periodontal protocols for practices, increasing their production while implementing the latest technology. Gagne continues to bring the best technology to offices through training and implementation, enabling clinicians to focus solely on patient care. An international presenter, she has also worked in leadership position with Envista (formerly Kerr), Danaher, Henry Schein, and Zest Dental Solutions.
Sterisil, a subsidiary of Solmetex, provides consistent and high-quality dental water solutions that meet industry standards and customer expectations. Its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered dental waterline treatment and testing offerings keep dental offices in regulatory water compliance. Solmetex, with more than 25 years of experience, is an industry leader, manufacturing the NXT Hg5® series of amalgam separators, and offers a comprehensive product line to fulfill the EPA’s “Dental Rule” requirements.