We ended 2016 with some great news from the EU – their partial ban of mercury amalgam. So how about we start 2017 with some great news from right here in the US?
In December, the EPA finalized its amalgam separator rule. It goes into effect 30 days after it gets published in the Federal Register, and dental offices have until the end of 2019 to comply.
From now on, all dental offices that place or remove mercury fillings must have separators. If they have old units that don’t meet the new standards, they have to replace them with units that do.
Each time an amalgam filling is placed or removed, tiny particles of mercury bypass chairside traps and make their way into our wastewaters. In fact, the EPA estimates that 50% of the mercury pollution in our wastewaters is attributed to dental amalgam. While treatment plants capture most of the mercury, about 10% is distributed into the environment as sludge that is either incinerated, applied to the land as fertilizer, or deposited in landfills. From there, bacteria convert it into methylmercury, a neurotoxin that builds up in fish and the mammals that consume them, including humans.
Offices must also collect and recycle any scrap amalgam, as well as clean the chairside traps with cleansers free of bleach or chlorine to keep mercury from being released. They must also submit a compliance report and have maintenance and inspection records available.
According to the EPA, it’s a “relatively low-cost” solution that “makes sense.”
But it’s still just a partial solution. Dental mercury also finds its way into our environment from human waste, cremation, and burial, for instance. So long as any mouths contain mercury amalgam fillings, these are issues that require other solutions.
Eventually, though, there will be a day when amalgam is no longer placed by anyone anywhere. All mouths will be mercury-free.
The EPA’s rule is one more step forward. Not only does it limit mercury pollution. Its very existence is a reminder that amalgam is not some harmless substance but a highly toxic compound that must be handled with utmost care.