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Dental clinics are key to reducing mercury pollution

Mercury is dangerous to human health, fish, wildlife and the environment, so the District works diligently to prevent this toxin from getting into wastewater.

Dental clinics have been a key player in reducing the amount of mercury that gets into our wastewater. Dental amalgam, which contains mercury, was historically one of the largest sources of mercury to the treatment plant. But thanks to our work with area dental offices to install amalgam separators in the 2000s, the District has seen a significant decrease in incoming and outgoing mercury levels at the treatment plant. We continue to work with dental clinics to help keep as much amalgam as possible out of the sewer and our waters.

Steps to maintain mercury reductions

Dental clinics in the District’s service area should follow these recommendations and requirements to minimize mercury pollution. Some of these items are required by the District’s Sewer Use Ordinance, and many of the District’s requirements overlap with the requirements in the EPA’s dental waste rule.

  • Maintain your amalgam separator according to manufacturer recommendations. Amalgam separators can remove over 99% of the amalgam from dental wastewater. However, if they become too full, amalgam-containing wastewater can bypass the separator and drain to the sewer. Ensure that the separator cartridge is replaced at the recommended frequency or before contents exceed the fill point.
  • Complete the District’s annual amalgam certification report. This report verifies that your clinic is following the required practices. Our Pollution Prevention team will email each dental clinic a customized link to their form each year.
  • Follow the American Dental Association’s best management practices for amalgam management.
  • Use a vacuum line cleaner that is compatible with your amalgam separator. Line cleaners that contain bleach or chlorine, or have a high or low pH (below 6 or over 8), can diminish the effectiveness of the amalgam separator. Check with the separator manufacturer to make sure your cleaner is appropriate for the separator.
  • Recycle amalgam scraps, amalgam-containing teeth and other materials, like amalgam capsules. Use a responsible amalgam recycler, such as Dane County Clean Sweep’s Small Business Hazardous Waste Program.
  • Handle old plumbing fixtures as potentially mercury-containing waste. When conducting renovations or demolitions, safely handle and properly dispose of plumbing parts. Mercury can settle in old fixtures, such as sumps and traps, making them hazardous waste.

Other pollutants

Although less prevalent than amalgam in dental offices, other substances used in dental settings can be water pollutants as well. Here’s how to minimize them.

  • Properly dispose of medications via a waste management company, rather than flushing them or placing them in the trash. If you need to dispose of a small amount of non-controlled medications, Dane County Clean Sweep may be a disposal option. Be aware that household medication collection sites, such as MedDrop boxes, cannot be used to dispose of business pharmaceutical waste.
  • Capture silver fixer if using non-digital X-rays to prevent the fixer from going down the drain.
  • Educate staff on what can and cannot go down the drain.