Home' News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin September 2016 Contents PRACTICE
The objective of the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP) ‘Minamata Convention on Mercury’ is to protect human
health and the environment from anthropological emissions and
releases of mercury and mercury compounds.
This has implications for the dental sector. The 120+ nations
negotiating the Convention recognised that dental amalgam had to
be considered differently from the many products that have ‘phase
out’ dates, generally the year 2020.
Annex A of the Convention, ‘Mercury added products’, discusses
dental amalgam and the provisions around its use with a view to a
‘phase-down’ of amalgam.
One of the provisions listed is promoting the use of best
environmental practices in dental facilities to reduce releases of
mercury and mercury compounds into water and land.
This requirement is further explained in Article 11 ‘Mercury wastes’
which addresses the environmentally sound management of
products containing mercury or mercury compounds.
This is where dental amalgam fits in.
The technology to capture amalgam waste is known as ‘amalgam
separation’, and the best available technology at the moment is an
amalgam separator certified to the international standard ISO 11143
Dentistry – Amalgam Separators.
These separators capture a minimum of 95% of a standard amalgam
There has been much discussion on whether the mercury in the
amalgam is ‘released’ into the environment. If we have a 2-spill
amalgam capsule and release it into the environment, there will be
minimal to no release of the mercury.
However, cutting and polishing new amalgam fillings and removing
old amalgam fillings produces small particles, many of which are
less than 100 micrometres in diameter. It is the very high surface to
mass ratio of these particles that has the potential for the release of
mercury over time which may be converted in the environment to
the more toxic organic form, methyl mercury.
The UNEP estimates that globally dental amalgam accounts for 8%
of the mercury released into the environment.
WhaT’s The ausTralIan conTrIbuTIon?
Data recently received from one Environmental Protection Authority
licensed amalgam waste recycler in Australia, is surprising.
In 2015, it recycled the amalgam waste from 576 separators,
covering all brands of separator.
Amalgam waste management
You can make a difference
From this, 500 kg of mercury and 500 kg of other heavy metals were
It is estimated that there are 8,300 surgeries in Australia –
obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement in protecting our
environment from amalgam waste.
This recycler has happily noted a significant increase in the number
of containers collected for recycling since the introduction last
December of the amalgam container swap program.
The recycler negotiated with all amalgam separator importers to
only sell replacement containers through their company. Now when
you ring for a replacement container, the company also arranges
collection of the full container.
The costs of amalgam separators and recycling need to be
considered as a cost of doing business, just like sharps collection,
autoclaves, infection control products and surgery equipment and
The ADA recommends the installation of amalgam separators
complying with ISO 11143 and the collection of the waste for
recycling by a licensed recycler.
Some water boards and EPA‘s around the country view amalgam
waste as ‘Prescribed Industrial Waste’ (PIW) and it is illegal to
discharge such waste into the sewer.
Like all recycling programs, success depends on each individual
doing their small part.
You can make a difference.
On behalf of the DIME Committee
*UNEP Global Dental Amalgam Waste Management Expert
*Participant in UNEP/ World Health Organisation/ FDI World Dental Federation/
International Dental Manufacturers East African Dental Amalgam Phase Down
*Australian Delegate to ISO TC 106 Dentistry
Conflict of interest – Manager, Cattani Australia
“ The cosTs of amalgam separaTors
and recyclIng need To be consIdered
as a cosT of doIng busIness, jusT
lIke sharps collecTIon, auToclaves,
InfecTIon conTrol producTs and
surgery equIpmenT and furnITure.”
16 | ADA NEWS BULLETIN | SEPTEMBER 2016
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