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EPA to Require Dental Offices to Install Amalgam Separators


Dental practices nationwide will be required to install amalgam separators, according to a final rule released by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) on Dec. 15. The decision also requires dental offices to follow two best management practices (BMPs) recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA).

According to the document, the purpose of the final rule is to set a uniform national standard to reduce the discharge of mercury-containing dental amalgam to municipal treatment plants, also known as publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), in the United States. Mercury is often discharged when dentists remove amalgam fillings, and from excess amalgam waste when new amalgam is placed.


Although dental offices are not a major contributor of mercury to the environment, they are the main source of mercury discharges to POTWs in the U.S. The EPA estimates 5.1 tons of mercury and an additional 5.3 tons of other metals found in waste dental amalgam are collectively discharged into POTWs annually.

Approximately 40% of dentists subject to the rule have already installed amalgam separators in their practices.

“The EPA has concluded that requiring dental offices to remove mercury through relatively low-cost and readily available amalgam separators and BMPs makes sense,” according to the final rule. “Capturing mercury-laden waste where it is created prevents it from being released into the environment.

The rule also requires dental dischargers to adopt two BMPs recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA). The first prohibits providers from flushing waste amalgam down a drain. The second prohibits the use of bleach or chlorine-containing cleaners that may lead to the dissolution of solid mercury when cleaning chairside traps and vacuum lines.

The EPA rule applies to offices, dental schools and clinics, and large institutions where dentistry is practiced that discharge to a POTW. It does not apply to mobile units or offices in which dentistry consists only of the following dental specialties: oral pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, periodontics, orthodontics or prosthodontics. Dental offices that do not place dental amalgam and do not remove dental amalgam except in limited emergency or unplanned circumstances are also exempt, according to the rule’s Final Fact Sheet.

According to the ADA, dentists who already have separators in place are grandfathered for 10 years. The rule goes into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register. The compliance date is three years after the rule is implemented.

Featured photo courtesy of fredmantel/THINKSTOCK

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