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EPA announces intent to regulate dental mercury waste

Washington—The Environmental Protection Agency Sept. 27 announced plans to initiate an effluent guideline rulemaking procedure to reduce mercury waste from dental facilities. The EPA said it expects to issue a draft proposal next year that would take effect in 2012.

Association policy strongly encourages dentists to adhere to best management practices and supports other voluntary efforts by dentists to reduce amalgam discharges in dental office wastewater (Dental Office Wastewater Policy (2003:387). The ADA House of Delegates later added amalgam separators to the policy. The 2010 ADA House is expected to take up amalgam separator policy in advance of EPA rulemaking.

The EPA said dental facilities will be able to use existing technology to meet the proposed requirements. The agency intends to focus its technology assessment on amalgam separators. Until the rule is final, EPA encourages dental facilities to voluntarily install amalgam separators. Some states and municipalities require installation of amalgam separators in dental offices.

According to the EPA, dental amalgams account for 3.7 tons of mercury discharged into wastewater from dental facilities annually, and amalgam separators can separate out 95 percent of the mercury normally discharged to local waste treatment plants. The separator captures the mercury, which is recycled and reused.

The ADA, EPA and National Association of Clean Water Agencies signed a memorandum of understanding MOU to promote voluntary use of the ADA's best management practices for handling amalgam waste.