The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it intends to propose a rule to reduce mercury waste from dental offices-in other words, to make the use of amalgam separators mandatory. The announcement has been welcomed by the American Dental Association, who nonetheless maintain amalgam fillings are safe. The mixed message is significant because the Australian Dental Association’s policy on the use of amalgam follows the science in the United States.
According to the EPA, “Approximately 50 per cent of mercury entering local waste treatment plants comes from dental amalgam waste. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change elemental mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish.
“Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury can damage children’s developing brains and nervous systems even before they are born.”
The American Dental Association put out a statement in response to the EPA’s statement, saying “The American Dental Association (ADA) agrees with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that amalgam separators play an important role minimizing the release of mercury into dental office wastewater, and that is why we promote their use. That said, we cannot comment on the proposed EPA regulation announced today until the agency shares it with us.”
In Australia, the Dentists for Cleaner Water program ran in Victoria up until a few months ago, where the Victorian Government offered all private sector dentists a rebate for purchasing and installing amalgam separators and entering into an amalgam waste collection agreement. Due to the unprecedented demand, the maximum rebate for installing amalgam separators under the Dentists for Cleaner Water program was extended to 30 June 2010.
According to the Dentists for Cleaner Water website, the program aimed to promote the installation and use of amalgam separators in private sector dental practices, to help eliminate mercury from Victoria’s sewerage systems. “The presence of mercury in Victoria’s sewerage systems not only limits the recovery of waste, it compromises both environmental and human health,” the website said.