EPA rule: dentists must cut amalgam discharge

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new proposed standards to cut discharges of dental amalgam to the environment under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule would require all affected dentists to control mercury discharges to Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs). Specifically, it would require them to cut their dental amalgam discharges to a level using amalgam separators and the use of other "Best Management Practices," according to an EPA statement.

Under the rule, dentists could demonstrate compliance by "installing, operating and maintaining amalgam separators." It would declare dental practices whose existing separators do not remove the percentage of amalgam in the proposed requirements as meeting the proposed requirements for the life of the existing separator.

Finally, the EPA's rule would limit dental dischargers' reporting requirements to annual certification and record-keeping in lieu of wastewater monitoring.

As a result of the rule, the EPA aims to cut metal discharge to POTWs by at least 8.8 tons a year. The agency expects to finalize the rule in September 2015.

"Studies show about half the mercury that enters Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) comes from dental offices. Mercury from amalgam can then make its way into the environment in a number of ways, including through discharge to water bodies," the EPA statement said. "Contact with some microorganisms can help create methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in fish, shellfish and fish-eating animals. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of human exposure to methylmercury."

ADA staff has met with officials from the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget (which reviewed a draft of the proposed rule) to reiterate the ADA's support for a national separator mandate if it is patterned on ADA best management practices and complies with common-sense principles established by ADA policy as set forth in a House of Delegates resolution.

The agency will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. A public hearing is also scheduled for Nov. 10.

CDA is currently reviewing the final rule and assessing its impact to members. CDA is analyzing the rule from a California perspective and is in communication with the ADA.

CDA will continue to keep members informed on this new rule in the Update and on cda.org. To view the "Amalgam Waste Best Management Practices" Practice Support resource, click here.