Elemental mercury is the primary component of dental lab equipment amalgam.
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal in the environment and can exist
in liquid, gas or solid form when combined with other metals. Everyone
is exposed to mercury through air, drinking water, soil and food. The
concern is how much mercury exposure is too much before becoming mercury
poisoning, and are mercury levels increasing as a result of
interactions with other elements in the environment?
Mercury is released into the environment whenever a dentist removes
an old amalgam filling from a cavity, or when excess amalgam is removed
during the placement of a new filling. There is a concern that low
levels of vapor can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs even years
after an amalgam filling is placed in a patient’s mouth, potentially
causing long-term damage to the brain and kidneys. Due to the lack of
scientific data surrounding this concern, little has been done over the
years to limit the use and/or disposal of dental amalgam.
In 2009, the FDA issued a final rule that classified dental amalgam (dental amalgamator)
as a Class II device accompanied by a document that designates special
controls for dental amalgam. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR) and the EPA have established mercury exposure levels
aimed at protecting the most mercury-sensitive populations from the
adverse effects of mercury vapor, namely pregnant women, developing
fetuses and all children under 6 years old.
It is understood that a number of dental offices may already have an
amalgam separator in place, whether to comply with existing state or
local amalgam regulations, or because they voluntarily installed an
amalgam separator. According to the new EPA ruling, dental offices with
existing amalgam separators will not be penalized as long as the
separator is certified to remove 95% of total mercury.
The EPA will not require existing separators that still have a
remaining useful life to be retrofitted with a new separator, because of
the additional costs incurred by dental facilities that proactively
installed an amalgam separator ahead of the EPA’s proposed requirements,
and because of the additional solid waste that would be generated by
disposing of the existing separators.
As long as offices with existing separators continue to properly
operate and maintain the separator and comply with BMPs and
recordkeeping requirements, these offices will be deemed in compliance
with the new ruling until ten years from the effective date of the final