Dental may offices generate waste mercury from amalgam, pathological/medical waste from teeth, and potentially lead waste from dental x-rays.
U.S. EPA intends to propose a rule to reduce mercury waste from dental offices in 2011. Dental amalgams, orfillings containing mercury, account for 3.7 tons of mercury discharged from dental offices each year. The mercury waste results when old mercury fillings are replaced with new ones. The mercury in dental fillings is flushed into chair-side drains and enters the wastewater systems, making its way into the environment through discharges to rivers and lakes, incineration or land application of sewage sludge. EPA expects to finalize the rule in 2012. Dental offices will be able to use existing technology to meet the proposed requirements. Amalgam separators can separate out 95 percent of the mercury normally discharged to the local waste treatment plant. The separator captures the mercury, which is then recycled and reused.
Until the rule is final, EPA encourages dental offices to voluntarily install amalgam separators. Twelve states and several municipalities already require the installation of amalgam separators in dental offices.
As lead-based x-ray technologies are being replaced by digital technologies lead waste is no longer a disposal problem for dental offices.