Amalgam separators perform an essential function in dental offices and facilities around the country, protecting the environment and human health by keeping dental amalgam out of wastewater.
By now, all offices and other facilities that practice certain procedures that involve handling dental amalgam commonly used for cavity fillings are likely more than familiar with amalgam separators, at least at a basic level. This is because the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule that requires most of these types of facilities to have separators installed has been in effect for months now.
But it is still valuable to ensure dentists and those who work with them understand how amalgam separators operate and how they keep amalgam waste – and the mercury it contains – out of community wastewater systems and out of the environment, where it could potentially harm animal and human health.
Dentists shouldn’t be wary of amalgam separators as they are a practical solution for keeping people and the environment safe from pollution due to mercury exposure. They are easy to install in most cases and are also easy to operate.
Those in charge of overseeing separator purchases and installation should be sure to do their research and due diligence, though, as not all units are of the same quality. In some cases, affordability will differ. But certain manufacturers may also offer programs to help with the affordability of the equipment.
Plus, some separator providers will also offer recycling and record-keeping or document management services to make following all applicable regulations that much easier.
An amalgam separator is essentially a solids collector that has been installed on a vacuum line in a dental facility by a plumber. The equipment uses gravity to capture any sediment that might contain amalgam – and mercury – as it travels down from chairside amalgam traps.
Dentistry IQ provides an example of a common set up for separators. In this example, each chair in a dentist office has a chairside trap. There is also a central vacuum pump and vacuum pump filter that has been installed. This setup generally is capable of capturing and removing 78% of dental amalgam waste and preventing it from heading further into wastewater systems.
The separator itself will capture any sediment that travels through the vacuum line, though, not just amalgam waste. All of the sediment that is collected before it would enter sewer systems is then stored in a canister.
Once a canister is full, it must be replaced. The full canister is sent to a recycling facility, where the mercury is actually separated from other sediment and waste that has been captured by the separator unit.
It turns out that the amount of mercury captured can often be quite a bit, as amalgam separators are good at what they are intended to do. According to RDH, most separators can remove 99% of mercury.
Not all separators operate in the same fashion, though. While some use sedimentation to capture waste, others use filtration, centrifugation or a combination of these methods, according to the American Dental Association. Other separators use ion exchange technology in order to fulfill their intended function.
Some dental facilities may find that their needs are best met by one of the different types of amalgam separators.
This type of unit slows down the flow of wastewater. This then allows amalgam particles that have been captured to settle and separate from the wastewater that passes through the line.
Filtration units operate how their name suggests. These separators utilize different filters to capture amalgam courses of different sizes – both coarse and fine – before they can enter the wastewater system and potentially cause future issues there.
These types of separators use centrifugal force to remove amalgam particles from wastewater.
Other types of separators may use a combination of any of the above methods to capture amalgam waste.
No matter the type of separator a dental facility purchases, it must be ISO certified, which means it meets certain standards and requirements as specified by ISO 11143. This sets the standard for efficiency of amalgam separators in capturing dental amalgam waste and mercury.
Most models exceed this standard, according to RDH. Again, most separators have in fact been certified to remove 99% of dental amalgam, which does exceed the ISO standard. But this still is a necessary item to check when considering making any sort of purchase or entering into any waste management or recycling services agreement.
The ins and outs of separator technology and operation are not necessarily the main focus of dentistry professionals. That’s our job here at DRNA. The key area professionals must prioritize is ensuring that their offices and practices are following amalgam waste management best practices.
By following these best practices, those who work in dentistry can know that they are doing their part to keep their communities – and the environment that surrounds their communities – safe from potential harm down the road.
Following those best practices and staying in compliance with federal, state and local regulations is not a simple task. There are always complicated issues and ever-changing details regarding compliance.
Focus more on your patients and less on these issues by partnering with DRNA, the complete regulatory solution for the dental community. Our business is endorsed by dental associations and dental insurance companies that represent a total of 80,000 dentists.
In addition, when we say a complete regulatory solution – we mean it. We offer so much more than assistance with adhering to amalgam waste best practices and proper recycling. If there’s a type of waste your office handles, then we likely have a solution to help.
Contact DRNA today to learn more about the many ways we can help your business or organization remain in total compliance with all regulations that affect you.