EPA to remove mercury pollution from dental offices across U.S.
The EPA has announced a proposal to eliminate mercury pollution from dental offices nationwide in an effort to meet new CWA standards that would cut discharges of dental amalgam -- a mixture of mercury and other metals that dentists use to fill cavities.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Sept. 26, 2014 -- On Thursday, Sept. 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposal to eliminate mercury pollution from dental offices nationwide in an effort to meet new Clean Water Act (CWA) standards that would cut discharges of dental amalgam -- a mixture of mercury and other metals that dentists use to fill cavities. Under this proposal, dentists must use devices to remove mercury and other toxic metals before they are disposed down the drain.
"This proposed rule would cut mercury and toxic metal discharges to public wastewater systems by at least 8.8 tons a year nationwide," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Bay Area communities already require dentists to use amalgam capture devices and have seen their mercury pollution levels drop nearly 75 percent. Now the rest of California and the nation will see these same benefits."
About half the mercury that enters public water treatment systems comes from dental offices that do not use amalgam separators. When mercury from amalgam is discharged into waterbodies, it can be transformed into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in fish, shellfish and fish-eating animals. People can be harmed by methylmercury when they eat contaminated fish and shellfish. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin which impairs brain and nervous system development and function.
Many states and local wastewater districts have started mercury pollution control programs that require amalgam separators in dentist offices. Amalgam separators remove 90 to 95 percent of mercury and other metal waste. Under the San Francisco Bay Regional Watershed Mercury control program, virtually all Bay Area cities and public water systems have successful mandatory dental amalgam separator programs, but this is not the case in most other communities and states.
EPA estimates that up to 120,000 dental offices in the U.S. use or dispose of amalgam fillings that contain mercury. Almost all of these offices discharge to sanitary sewers that flow to wastewater treatment plants. While most offices use some practices to reduce amalgam discharges to the sewers, they are not nearly as effective as amalgam separators. Because 40 to 50 percent of dentists across the country already use amalgam separators thanks to state and local programs, the new rule may result in installation of separators in up to 60,000 dental offices nationwide.
EPA estimates put the total annual cost of the proposed rule at $44 to $49 million, and a new streamlining proposal will cut state and local oversight costs by a similar amount. This action is one way the U.S. is meeting the goals of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international environmental agreement that addresses human activities contributing to widespread mercury pollution. EPA will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register and expects to finalize the rule in September 2015.