EDA supports EPA position on mercury waste

The Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA), an international membership association formed to promote environmentally sound practices in dentistry, supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to curtail mercury waste from dental offices.

In a recent EPA press release, the agency stated its intention to propose a rule next year requiring all dental practitioners to separate the mercury from dental amalgam waste before disposal.

"While we've preferred voluntary installation of amalgam separators and recognize the challenges dentists face in understanding the environmental impact of their practices, unfortunately, we see the highest rate of separator installation in areas where the requirements are mandatory," said Susan Beck, director of the EDA, in a press release.

The EPA is recommending that dental offices voluntarily install and utilize "existing technology," such as amalgam separators, she noted.

"Voluntarily and promptly installing a separator is the responsible thing to do," she said. "Otherwise, dental office mercury waste ends up burdening local water treatment plants in the very communities in which dentists practice."

Some dentists are not aware that they need an amalgam separator, Beck added.

"We often hear from high-tech dentists who no longer place amalgam fillings that they don't think they need a separator. This is simply not so," explained EDA co-founder Ina Pockrass. "While counterintuitive, dentists who only remove amalgam restorations actually generate, on an average, more mercury-containing waste than those who place the material."

According to the EPA, 50% of the mercury entering local waste treatment plants -- about 3.7 tons each year -- comes from dental amalgam. Amalgam separators, however, can take 95% of the mercury out of the amalgam waste that is discharged to local treatment plants.

"Our message is simple," Pockrass said. "Whether you put amalgam in or take it out, please deal with it responsibly by installing a separator."

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