Dental & Medical

Will Australia Follow The US On Amalgam Separators?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) recently released a proposal to require dental practices to install amalgam separators to control the discharge of dental amalgam pollutants.

In the US, dental offices are the largest single source of the mercury that flows through water treatment works, contributing about half of total amount of mercury that ends up in water treatment systems. It’s reasonable to assume that it is a similar situation in Australia.

Old dental surgery

It's time to modernise the way most dental surgeries deal with amalgam waste. Image: Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office via Flickr (CC)

So why is that a problem? Although mercury is quite stable when it is part of dental amalgam, once it is in the environment some types of microorganisms can convert metallic mercury into the far more toxic methylmercury. It is this form that builds up in fish and shellfish which then become the main sources of methylmerucy exposure to humans.

In the United States, fitting amalgam separators and traps in all dental practices would reduce the discharge of mercury by at least 4.4 tons each year. While Australia’s population is much smaller, with over 15,000 dentists in Australia and with the average dental chair generating half a kilogram of mercury waste each year, it’s a fair bet that we punch above our weight when it comes to dental sources of mercury pollution.

Fish on a plate

Mercury from discarded amalgam fillings can end up in the fish on our dinner plates. Image: Ritesh Man Tamrakar via Flickr (CC)

At the moment it is not compulsory for dentists in Australia to install amalgam separators. However, it is Australian Dental Association policy to fit amalgam traps and to ensure dental amalgam is recycled. Between 2008 and 2011 this policy was given tangible support in Victoria, with the state government providing a rebate to dentists who installed amalgam separators and entered into an amalgam waste collection agreement. Despite these efforts, the uptake of amalgam separators by Australian dental practices remains low.

With a history of following overseas trends when it comes to environmental protection, we could well go down the path proposed by the US EPA and make the fitting of amalgam separators compulsory.

But why wait? The main reason for dentists to install amalgam separators is that it is simply the right thing to do. So if you are one of the many dentists who don’t have amalgam separators, give us a call or fill in the form below to find out how easy and affordable it is to do your bit to cut mercury pollution.

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