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The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that approximately 50% of mercury that enters wastewater treatment facilities comes from dental amalgam waste. Amalgam is the mix of metals used to perform fillings in tooth cavities.  When dentists perform cavity treatment, amalgam particles can separate from the teeth. Consequently, mercury can ultimately be deposited into the waste water stream via the dentist’s suction appliances. It can then be transformed into organic mercury, which becomes toxic and can have the effect of contaminating significant amounts of drinking water. Mercury is acknowledged by the World Health Organization as being in the top ten for chemicals of major public health concern, with potential toxic effects on the nervous, immune and digestive systems, as well as the eyes, kidneys, lungs and skin.

Legislators have responded. The Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 (as amended by The Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2009) have made the installation of amalgam separators a necessity for all dental practices in order to reduce the potential effects of this ‘hazardous waste’ from entering the waste water stream. It is a requirement that these separators meet the British Standard ‘Dental Equipment Amalgam Separators’ (BS ISO EN 11143:2000). The separators themselves are easy to install, operate and maintain, with the replacement of a container needed approximately once every six to twelve months, depending on the size of the practice. Specialist recyclers then partition the mercury from the remaining sediment, for it to either be reused in industry or disposed of in the correct way.

It is worth noting that the duty of care in the disposal of hazardous amalgam waste rests with the dental practice. Interestingly, this duty continues even when the waste reaches the specialist recyclers. Dentists have been fined in the past where their recycler was found to be disposing of amalgam waste illegally. If you intend to sell your dental practice in the future, enquiries will be made about your compliance with these Regulations. 

Should you be looking to sell your dental practice and have any queries regarding these Regulations, please do not hesitate to call Chris Hindle on 01904 697788 or at c.hindle@crombiewilkinson.co.uk

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