Even as a dental office that only removes amalgam fillings we still use an amalgam separator. The most important environmental initiative for any responsible dental office is to install an amalgam separator. This equipment keeps mercury-containing filling material from entering our water supply.
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. The EPA estimates that 50% of all mercury entering our local wastewater treatment facilities originates in dental offices.
In the US, only 12 states and 19 localities require dental offices to have amalgam separators, and only about 30,000 offices are believed to have separators. That means as many as 90,000 US dental offices don’t have a separator. While the industry has been largely self-regulating to date, the EPA has announced a plan to make installation of separators mandatory by 2012.
While we only place state-of-the-art tooth-colored restoration materials, we know that a separator must be used to capture removed restorations containing mercury. In a survey conducted by the EDA in 2009, only 39% of offices surveyed had amalgam separators.
The popular answer for not installing a separator is the mis-perception that one isn’t needed because the office only removes amalgam fillings. While counter-intuitive, studies show that offices removing amalgam actually generate more mercury-containing waste than those that place the fillings, as much as 3 pounds of toxic waste a year.
Suction systems are a critical piece of machinery for any dental office, but the Wet dental vacuum system can use as much as 360 gallons of water per day.