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Here is what dentists should know about dental amalgam separators

Here is what dentists should know about dental amalgam separators

With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation on the use of amalgam separators being finalized and the compliance date being set for July 14, 2020, it is definitely time for dental practices to brush up on their knowledge of amalgam separators.

Every dental practice should be familiar with amalgam separators, how they work, how they can differ by type and why they are an important feature of every office.

There are many factors to consider before your dental practice makes a decision on what type of dental amalgam separator is best for your office. Here is an overview of the information you should know about the equipment.

A look at the different types of amalgam separators

Amalgam separators remove amalgam particles from wastewater, reducing how much amalgam enters the sewage system from dental office wastewater systems.

As the American Dental Association notes, this separation is accomplished by sedimentation, filtration, centrifugation or a combination of those. Additionally, other amalgam separators use ion exchange technology to remove mercury from wastewater.

Here’s a quick overview of how these equipment types work. For more information, you can review this document (PDF) from the ADA.

Sedimentation units

This type of separator slows down the flow of wastewater. That allows the amalgam particles to settle out of the wastewater.

Filtration units

Filtration units use filters to separate amalgam from wastewater. Filter types can vary. Some filters will catch both coarse and fine particles.

Centrifuge units

These units use centrifugal force to remove amalgam particles from wastewater.

Combination units

Some separators use two or more of the methods. This allows the equipment to remove tiny amalgam particles and dissolved mercury, as well.

How amalgam separators address health and environment concerns

What matters to dentists, though, isn’t necessarily how separators work, though. It’s that they serve their intended purpose and minimize health and environmental issues that could occur if amalgam is not separated from wastewater.

Dentist offices and practices must take the proper precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen. The first step is learning more about what amalgam separators - and how many - are best for each specific office.

Office layout and building configuration factor into separator installation

For the most part, dental practices install amalgam separators in vacuum system piping in-line close to or somewhere nearby operating chairs, in-line at a central location further up the pipe than the vacuum pump or at the outlet side of an air/water separator.

Separator equipment can be placed in the basement, if an office has one, according to the ADA. This saves office space and allows for enough space for wastewater flow to collect and separate amalgam.

If there is no basement, or the building has other size constraints, then chairside amalgam separators may be needed. Simply installing the equipment in a utility closet or similar out-of-the-way location may not provide enough upstream piping.

Have a maintenance plan

As amalgam separators fill, they need to be emptied and cleaned. If this is not done regularly, then it could happen at an incredibly inopportune moment, such as in the middle of procedure.

Ensure that maintenance requirements of any amalgam separator are understood before making a purchase. Also, it is a good idea to assign regular maintenance tasks to specific office employees so that interruptions do not happen at the worst possible times.

You should also check with your vendor on how to clean your system regularly. A loss of suction power is one common sign that your system may need to be cleaned.

Finally, it should be noted that maintenance requirements will vary depending on the type of amalgam separator you install in your office. Know the requirements of each unit you are researching before you make a final decision.

Know the regulatory issues

Though the EPA has set regulations for dental amalgam separators at the federal level, dental practices should also be aware of any state- or local-level regulations that may be in place for the equipment.

It is critical that you follow all regulations for amalgam separators by recycling the units as needed and keeping records that show you are taking all the necessary steps to remain in compliance with regulations.

As the source of regulated waste, it is the dental office’s responsibility that amalgam waste is recycled and handled properly. Luckily, many separator vendors and equipment providers also offer recycling programs that make remaining compliant much easier for their clients.

When it comes to other codes that may affect a dental practice, make sure to check for any plumbing code requirements specific to your state or city. As the ADA has stated, how your equipment is installed may affect what code requirements and regulations actually apply to your office.

Each practice should also check with local wastewater treatment plants to see if they maintain a list of approved amalgam separator equipment.

Find the right amalgam separators for your dental practice

DRNA offers amalgam separator installation and recycling solutions that comply with existing local, state and federal regulations. As part of this solution, we provide a line of amalgam separators fit for a wide range of offices.

Timely and correctly recycling of your amalgam separator is critical to ensuring compliance with regulations. With DRNA’s recycling program, your dental office is placed on a recurring schedule to automatically receive a replacement unit once each year.

When you practice let’s us know that your separator is ready for recycling, we arrange a pickup from your office and deliver the unit to an EPA-certified facility. DRNA then provides your practice with the required compliance documentation.

DRNA also provides chairside amalgam solutions so your practice can manage all of its amalgam waste, including scrap, capsules and extracted teeth. Your office can choose different chairside amalgam kit sizes to fit your practice’s needs.

Contact DRNA to learn more about dental amalgam waste solutions

Many dental practices, education institutions and associations trust DRNA with their dental waste recycling needs. If you are interested in receiving more information, please contact us.

To keep up with information regarding dental amalgam recycling, read our blog.