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EPA proposes amalgam separator rule

September 26, 2014

By Craig Palmer

Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed amalgam separator standards for dental offices and said it expects to finalize a rule in September 2015.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the proposed rule Sept. 23 and submitted it for publication in the Federal Register, a digest of government regulatory activity.

The EPA will conduct a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 10 and will accept comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after FR publication.

The Association is reviewing the draft proposed rule and will comment once the review is completed, said an ADA news release.

“The Association has consulted with the EPA as it developed the rule and supports a reasonable national pretreatment standard for amalgam waste so long as it is not unduly burdensome on dental professionals,” the media statement said.

Association policy supports a national rule if certain conditions are met. An EPA press release said the Association also recommends separators and other best management practices for amalgam. Based on a preliminary review, the EPA’s proposed rule seems to largely parallel the ADA’s best management practices but further review is necessary, ADA representatives said. Visit ADA.org and search “amalgam separators” for more information.

ADA House of Delegates Res. 50H-2010 calls on the Association to “engage the United States Environmental Protection Agency in a negotiated rulemaking process regarding a national pretreatment standard for dental office wastewater.”

The ADA Professional Product Review, a publication of the Council on Scientific Affairs, includes an ADA lab evaluation of amalgam separators and an article on Practical Issues for Purchasing, Installing and Maintaining Dental Amalgam Separators. Search “amalgam separators PPR” on ADA.org.

A pre-publication draft of the FR notice, Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Dental Category, was available by a link at epa.gov. “EPA is proposing technology-based pretreatment standards under the Clean Water Act for discharges of pollutants into publicly owned treatment works from existing and new dental practices that discharge dental amalgam,” the draft document said. “Dental amalgam contains mercury in a highly concentrated form that is relatively easy to collect and recycle.”

“The proposed rule would require all affected dentists to control mercury discharges to POTWs by reducing their discharge of dental amalgam to a level achievable through the use of the best available technology (amalgam separators) and the use of best management practices,” the EPA said.

“In order to simplify compliance with, and enforcement of the numeric reduction requirements, the proposed rule would allow dentists to demonstrate compliance by installing, operating and maintaining amalgam separators,” the EPA said. “The proposal also includes a provision by which dental offices that have already installed amalgam separators that do not meet the proposed amalgam removal efficiency would still be considered in compliance with the rule for the life of the amalgam separator.”

“Removing concentrated sources of mercury to POTWs opportunistically, such as through low-cost amalgam separators at dental offices (average annual cost per dental office: $700 [EPA estimate]), is a commonsense solution to managing mercury that would otherwise be released to air, land and water,” said EPA’s summary of the proposed rule.

Twelve states have implemented mandatory programs to reduce dental mercury discharges and New Mexico has a similar program scheduled for 2015 effectiveness, the 106-page draft proposed rule said: Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Additionally, at least 19 localities similarly have “mandatory dental reduction pretreatment programs,” EPA said.