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Amalgam separator law: Impact on dentists and the environment

2020 presented many new challenges for practicing dentists as they were forced to enact new procedures and grapple with unprecedented change presented by a global pandemic. In addition, dental offices nationwide had to deal with another challenge: complying with the new amalgam separator law.

Impact of amalgam waste
Dental offices are a contributing source of mercury in publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). Amalgam waste particles are created during placement and removal of amalgam restorations. Most of the mercury release from dental offices is elemental mercury, which can convert to methylmercury in water through bacteria. Methylmercury is toxic and can accumulate in water sources, fish, and other aquatic life, which is then consumed by humans. This can be harmful to humans because methylmercury is a neurotoxin and nephrotoxic substance. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), high exposure to methylmercury can lead to loss of peripheral vision, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, impaired speech, hearing, and “pins and needles” feelings around the hands, feet, or mouth.

On July 14, 2017, the U.S. EPA enacted a new rule under the Clean Water Act to reduce mercury in public water sources prior to water treatment. The Dental Office Category Rule, 40 CFR Part 441, aims to reduce dental offices’ role in the ongoing mercury problem. All dental offices must have amalgam separators and follow two best management practices recommended by the American Dental Association. The rule set a compliance date of July 14, 2020.

Read the remainder of this article in the April 2021 issue of Contour.

~Greg Benz, Illinois ’22

Greg Benz

Greg Benz attends the University of Illinois (UIC) College of Dentistry in Chicago. Outside of school, he enjoys coaching youth hockey and spending time outdoors. Greg is looking forward to graduating in May 2022 and plans to pursue a GPR program.

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