As of Thursday, December 15 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has officially signed and submitted the final ruling on dental amalgam effluent limitations for publication in the Federal Register (FR). The EPA regulation will affect existing and new dental practices that discharge dental amalgam. Accordingly, dental offices must meet the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) technology-based pretreatment standards for the discharges of pollutants into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). The rule is effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The date for compliance for most dentists will be three years from now, at the end of 2019.
Dental amalgam contains mercury and other metals that have the potential to pass through or interfere with municipal wastewater treatment at POTWs. The EPA states in its executive summary of the final rule “EPA has concluded that requiring dental offices to remove mercury through relatively low-cost and readily available amalgam separators and BMPs makes sense,”.
The American Dental Association (ADA), which has worked with the EPA on the rule for several years, commended the EPA for its response. “The ADA believes the Environmental Protection Agency’s new federal regulation represents a fair and reasonable approach to the management of dental amalgam waste,” said Dr. Gary L. Roberts, ADA president, in a statement. “We believe this new rule — which is a federal standard — is preferable to a patchwork of rules and regulations across various states and localities.”
Many dentists incorrectly believe that this regulation does not apply to them because they no longer place amalgam fillings. The fact is that many dentists still remove, drill and clean teeth with these fillings, and these procedures release the filling’s metal content into local wastewaters. Studies have shown that when dental offices install amalgam separators and follow American Dental Association (ADA) best practices for amalgam waste recovery, they reduce their exposure to liability and their environmental footprint.
What Dental Offices Are Affected by The EPA Ruling?
This rule applies to all offices that practice dentistry and discharge to a POTW, including large institutions and dental clinics. It does not apply to mobile units or certain dental specialties, such as: oral pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, or prosthodontics.
Dental offices that place or remove amalgam must operate and maintain an amalgam separator and must not discharge scrap amalgam or use certain kinds of line cleaners. They must also submit a One-Time Compliance Report. Certain dental offices that discharge to POTWs and do not place or remove amalgam need only submit a one-time certification.