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Environmental Law Update - EPA Proposes New Guidelines Governing Disposal of Dental Amalgam

Under a recently proposed rule, dental offices would be required either to not handle dental amalgam, or else do baseline and annual monitoring for mercury, as well as install amalgam separators and follow handling guidelines.

In an attempt to limit the release of mercury from dental amalgam, on September 25, 2014, EPA proposed technology-based pretreatment standards, for any water drained to public sewers. This rule will impact dental offices of any size that currently use and dispose of dental amalgam in their practices. Dental amalgam, commonly used in cavity fillings, contains mercury and its disposal accounts for nearly half of the mercury discharges to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), making dental offices the largest source of mercury discharge to POTWs in the United States. Mercury is discharged in the form of dental amalgam when dentists remove old amalgam fillings from cavities, and from excess amalgam removed when a dentist places a new filling.

In this Proposed Rule, dental offices that use dental amalgam will be required to manage their releases of mercury through the installation and use of amalgam separators, following EPA’s Best Management Practices (“BMPs”) for handling of dental amalgam and cleaning of vacuum lines, and periodic certification and reporting requirements to the government. Also, EPA proposes in this rule to “streamline” the permitting and reporting requirements for these pretreatment standards, which will lead to a simplified enforcement process as well. If an office does not use dental amalgam, or falls into one of a limited number of “specialty” groups defined in this Proposed Rule, they will simply need to certify that they do not use or discharge dental amalgam.

Currently, this rule is in a 60-day comment period (ending November 24th, 2014). Once the rule is final, dental offices will have three years to come into compliance by purchasing and installing control technology, implementing and following EPA’s Best Management Practices, and preparing for various reporting and certification requirements, including baseline monitoring and annual certification. Failure to follow these requirements could subject a business to state and federal enforcement actions, and businesses should plan ahead for compliance with this rule.

More information on the proposal, including instructions for submitting comments, can be found on EPA’s website for this issue – Click HERE

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