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How dental offices should dispose of X-ray waste

How dental offices should dispose of X-ray waste

As dentists work to find the best treatment method for each of their individual patients’ needs, X-rays will be one of the practices undoubtedly considered as an option for exploring how to proceed with treatment.

However, although X-rays are a vital tool for those who work in offices or other dental settings, this tool has become a focus of the American Dental Association and the Environmental Protection Agency. That is primarily due to the silver and lead present in solutions, films and foils used throughout the X-ray process.

Both lead and silver are officially considered hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is defined as any chemical waste that is not approved for disposal via drains or trash.

The American Dental Association has compiled best practice management recommendations for how to handle and properly dispose of both silver and lead. These recommendations should be followed by any dental office or educational institution that uses X-ray.

Though it following these suggestions will certainly help any dental practice in better handling their silver and lead waste, dentists and practitioners should always check with their state and local municipal governments for any additional laws regarding silver and lead disposal.

Silver disposal best management practices

Any health care office that provides X-ray services must be aware that used fixer solution contains silver. While it is true that dental offices and related practices do not create as large of an amount of silver waste from these solutions as other facilities, they still must remain aware of how to properly handling the material.

An American Dental Association (ADA) report notes that the silver used in fixer solutions does not have any harmful effects on the environment. Even still, some local wastewater agencies do limit how much silver can enter wastewater. Some even require pretreatment - a silver recovery cartridge could be used, for example - recycling or disposal of silver as hazardous waste.

As for fixer solution recycling, the ADA recommends several possible solutions for dental practices:

  1. Install a silver recovery unit that can remove silver from used fixer solutions, then recycle the cartridge.
  2. Use a service that offers pickup-and-recycle options.
  3. Collect and drop off the used fixer solution at a designated silver waste drop-off location.
  4. Send the used fixer solution to a facility that reclaims silver.
  5. Arrange an agreement that will allow sending used fixer solution to a medical radiology lab or a commercial photographic processing lab.
  6. Find out whether the manufacturer of the fixer solution used offers a take-back option.

Install a silver recovery unit

Before waste containing silver, such as fixer solutions, can be disposed of down a drain, an in-line silver recovery unit must first be installed. These units must also be continually maintained and functional so that waste that contains silver can be separated from material sent down drains.

Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists silver as a toxic heavy metal, it is illegal to dispose of waste material that may contain silver down drains, in trash or other means that could send the material to a city sewer system.

Install a silver recovery unit to separate silver from water sent down drains. Be sure to properly dispose of or recycle the unit containers once they reach their maximum fill levels.

Lead environmental and health concerns

Like silver, lead is considered a hazardous material. Its potential environmental concerns and risks posed to human and animal health are well-documented.

Lead poses a heightened threat to children and pregnant women, but also to adults in general. Lead absorbs more easily in children’s bodies because they are still growing, according to the EPA. Exposure can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. In rare cases, lead ingestion can cause seizures, coma and death.

Pregnant women must also take more precautions against coming into contact with lead because not only can it be harmful to them, but even more so to their developing babies. If exposed to lead, the baby could be born too early or too small, have damaged internal organs or have learning and behavioral problems down the road. Miscarraige is possible, too.

If not disposed of properly, lead can enter water supplies and begin causing adverse effects.

That is why dental practices must take seriously their commitment to following best management practices for its handling and disposal.

Lead disposal best management practices

Lead in dental offices can be found in the form of foil in intraoral film packets, ADA states. Employees at these practices should collect and recycle the packets through a licensed facility. Alternatively, practices can partner with a service provider that can pick up and dispose of the lead.

According to the ADA’s report, the proper disposal of lead aprons must also be considered. Any lead aprons or collars that are no longer used should be taken to a recycler that is licensed to handle lead waste.

To properly dispose of lead, seek out a company that specializes in handling hazardous waste. If there is one in your area, then call them to make sure they can take lead foil and old lead aprons or collars. Check with the company to confirm that they are licensed to take lead hazardous waste, too.

Another option is to send out lead for recycling. Lead melts when it is exposed to high temperatures. This makes for an excellent option that safely gets rid of lead and take additional steps toward protecting the environment. Contact area recycling companies near you to see if they are able to take lead waste and products.

Partner with a waste disposal service specializing in dentistry

Trying to find a waste removal and recycling service provider that is equipped to handle every need of dental practices - and knowledgeable of regulations affecting the industry - can be a significant challenge.

At DRNA, we are proud to be trusted by many in the dental community as a complete regulatory solution. From X-ray silver and lead disposal, to dental amalgam waste, pharmaceuticals and more, our experts are equipped to make hazardous waste removal headache-free for your dental practice.

Contact DRNA today for more information on how to more easily handle your office’s hazardous waste.