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EPA backs voluntary approach on amalgam separators

ADA's best management practices inform decision to decline further regulation

Washington—The ADA's best management practices for handling amalgam waste "will likely" encourage dentists' use of amalgam separators and deter federal regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency said in declining further regulation of the mercury discharge from dental offices.

"Most dental offices currently use some type of basic filtration system to reduce the amount of mercury solids passing into the sewer system," said the EPA notice published in the Sept. 15 Federal Register, a daily digest of government regulatory activity. "However, best management practices and the installation of amalgam separators, which generally have a removal efficiency of 95 percent, have been shown to reduce discharges even further."

The EPA signaled support for the Association's voluntary approach even as a House subcommittee staff called for "a mandatory program wherein dental clinics are required to install amalgam separators and follow BMPs for management of amalgam waste." EPA's announcement disdains that approach as unnecessary.

"We agree with and applaud EPA's decision that mandatory measures are not needed in dental offices to protect the environment from dental amalgam waste," said ADA President Mark J. Feldman. "The ADA led the way with our voluntary best management practices which provide dentists with step-by-step guidelines on how to capture and recycle dental amalgam waste.

"However, it is important for the dental profession to prove that our volunteer efforts will work," Dr. Feldman said. "I encourage our members to obtain a free copy of the ADA's best management practices for amalgam waste by visiting our Web site at or by calling the ADA at 1-312-440-2878."

The EPA said it would continue to monitor dentists' use of amalgam separators.

"ADA's recently revised BMPs will likely help in convincing dentists to install amalgam separators and employ other BMPs to recover dental amalgam and prevent the discharge of mercury to POTWs (publicly owned treatment works). At this time EPA is not identifying this sector for an effluent guidelines rulemaking.

"EPA will continue to examine the percentage of dentists using amalgam separators and their effectiveness at recovering dental amalgam and reducing mercury discharges to POTWs. EPA notes ADA's recent positive step in revising their BMPs to include the recommendation for dentists to use amalgam separators. In particular, EPA will examine whether a significant majority of dentists are utilizing amalgam separators. After such examination, EPA may re-evaluate its current view not to initiate an effluent guidelines rulemaking for this sector."

The EPA completed a dental amalgam management study before deciding against further regulation of dental offices, according to the FR notice. The entire document on EPA's planning processes and priorities for industries and health services potentially subject to new or further regulation is available online at