Amalgam filling material includes equal parts of elemental mercury and an alloy powder mostly composed of silver, tin and copper.
Mercury in our drinking, irrigation, and fishing waters is a serious environmental and human-health concern. A potent neuro-toxin, mercury poisoning is devastating to animal species, and is a tragic and debilitating experience for people and families suffering its effects. Only 11 states and 19 localities require dental offices to have amalgam separators, with varying levels of enforcement success. In general, the dental industry is self-regulating regarding amalgam waste, and our communities are relying on individual dental offices to protect the water stream from mercury-containing dental waste.
Many of today’s modern dental practices choose state-of-the-art tooth-colored restoration materials. But even if your office does not place amalgam fillings, you still need an amalgam separator. In a survey taken at the 2009 American Dental Association Convention, only 39 of 100 dental offices surveyed had amalgam separators. The popular answer for not installing a separator was that the office did not place amalgam fillings, not recognizing that the removal of amalgam fillings directs significant mercury-containing waste into the water stream. In a typical one-dentist office that only removes amalgam fillings, the amalgam separator captured 2 pounds of mercury-containing waste material in one year.
Amalgam separators are a readily available, relatively inexpensive, and low-maintenance piece of equipment in the dental practice. Some brands can be installed with very simple plumbing skills, others are easily put in and maintained by your dental supply company.
Find an amalgam separator supplier in the Pollution Prevention section of the GreenDoc Product Guide.
Check with your separator company to find out the life cycle of the collected waste. In some cases, it is recycled back into dental filling material or into non-medical use; other companies will “retort” the material, which is a process that involves securing the toxic waste material in a cement-like substance which is then diverted to landfill.
If you are a dental patient, make sure your dental office has an amalgam separator, even if they are only removing amalgam filling material. Check out more questions to ask your dentist about their eco-friendly choices.