Even dental offices that only remove amalgam fillings need an amalgam separator.

The most important environmental initiative for any dental office, whether or not it is a “green” practice, is to install an amalgam separator.

This equipment keeps mercury-containing filling material from entering our water supply.
Amalgam filling material includes equal parts of elemental mercury and an alloy powder mostly composed of silver, tin and copper.

Mercury in our drinking, irrigation, and fishing waters is a serious environmental and human-health concern. A potent neuro-toxin, mercury poisoning is devastating to animal species, and is a tragic and debilitating experience for people and families suffering its effects.

The EPA estimates that 50% of all mercury entering our local wastewater treatment facilities originates in dental offices.

In the US, only 12 states and 19 localities require dental offices to have amalgam separators, and only about 30,000 offices are believed to have separators. That means as many as 90,000 US dental offices don’t have a separator. While the industry has been largely self-regulating to date, the EPA has announced a plan to make installation of separators mandatory by 2012.

Don’t wait! Install a separator now.

hg5While many dental practices are choosing state-of-the-art tooth-colored restoration materials, even these offices need a separator to capture removed restorations containing mercury. In a survey conducted by the EDA in 2009, only 39% of offices surveyed had amalgam separators.

The popular answer for not installing a separator is the mis-perception that one isn’t needed because the office only removes amalgam fillings. While counter-intuitive, studies show that offices removing amalgam actually generate more mercury-containing waste than those that place the fillings, as much as 3 pounds of toxic waste a year.

Amalgam separators are a readily available, relatively inexpensive, and low-maintenance pieces of equipment. Some brands can be installed with very simple plumbing skills; others are easily put in and maintained by a dental supply company.

Dental practitioners should check with the separator company to find out what happens to the waste after it leaves your office. In some cases, it is recycled back into dental filling material or non-medical uses; other companies will “retort” the material, which is a process that involves securing the toxic waste material in a cement-like substance which is then diverted to landfill.

Avoid separator companies that cannot tell you what happens to your mercury-containing waste. The law holds dentists responsible for proper management of toxic waste, even after it leaves your office.