New Mercury Ruling: Dental Offices Must Comply with EPA Regulation

January 2, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

The EPA has adopted a new federal regulation that requires all dental offices, clinics, and schools to purchase and use dental amalgam separators in their treatment areas.

In an effort to curb the amount of mercury released into the environment, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a new federal regulation that requires all dental offices, clinics, and schools to purchase and use dental amalgam separators in their treatment areas. The new rule includes reasonable exemptions and a phase-in period, as well as considerations for dental practices that already have such systems installed.

According to the EPA, this rule was adopted to prevent mercury from entering municipal sewage treatment plants, otherwise known as publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). Dental offices have been identified as the primary source of mercury discharges into POTWs, since they regularly dispose of mercury and other metals that typically make up dental amalgams. By requiring the use of dental amalgam separators, the amalgam itself can be recycled after collection.

The EPA notes in a FAQs sheet that each dental amalgam separator will cost dental offices an average of $800 per year. Compliance with the new rule is expected to reduce the discharge of all metals into POTWs by at least 10.2 tons every year. About half of that amount is made up of mercury. The projected annual cost will be around $59 — 61 million.

The new rule does not apply to mobile dentistry units or to offices where only the following specialty dentistry is performed: oral pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, and prosthodontics.

In a statement released by the American Dental Association (ADA), President Gary L. Roberts, DDS, notes, “We believe this new rule -- which is a federal standard -- is preferable to a patchwork of rules and regulations across various states and localities.”

“The ADA is in the process of reviewing the rule and background statement in detail, which is more than 90 pages in length, in order to develop practical resources which will be posted on ADA.org/RecycleAmalgam to aid member dentists with questions they may have regarding compliance. In addition, ADA’s Business Resources has partnered with HealthFirst, a vendor that offers ADA member dentists special pricing on an amalgam separator device that will meet the federal regulatory requirements along with recycling services,” writes Roberts.

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