By: Griffin Cole, DDS, NMD
As many of us know, the issue of mercury discharges from amalgam waste impacts nearly every dental office. Research in the United States and other countries has repeatedly demonstrated that dental offices play a significant role in releasing mercury into the environment. Furthermore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that in 2003, dental offices were responsible for 50% of all mercury contamination in publicly-owned treatment works. Much of the concern is due to the fact that when mercury is released into the environment, it is known to poison the ecosystem for years, thereby harming plants, animals, water, and soil.
This issue has now become an international matter as result of the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Minamata Convention is a legally-binding agreement to phase-down industrial uses of mercury as a means of protecting the environment and human health, and the treaty includes a section on dental amalgam. 94 countries have signed the global agreement so far, and the United States was the first to ratify it this past November. In the United States, the EPA is also taking action against amalgam waste. In 2011, the EPA partnered with Marquette University’s School of Dentistry to teach dental students proper amalgam waste management, and in 2010, the EPA began work on creating guidelines to reduce dental discharges of mercury. They are still in the process of reviewing these rules, but the EPA reports that they are examining the use of amalgam separators as a possible measure to lower dental mercury pollution.
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons in Ontario, Canada, has already passed maintenance requirements for amalgam separators, which is important since amalgam waste from separators should be recycled annually to prevent contamination.