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Outreach to Dental Offices - Massachusetts

Organization(s) Massachusetts Strategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP)
Project Description MA DEP, working with the MA Dental Society (MDS) and Stericycle (a medical waste hauler) implemented a statewide collection of unused elemental mercury. Over a 9 month period, roughly 1200 pounds of liquid elemental mercury was collected from 111 dental offices and sent to Bethlehem Apparatus in Pennsylvania where it was refined for direct reuse in a wide array of products and processes. MA DEP, Pennsylvania DEP and Bethlehem Apparatus came to an agreement to treat the mercury as a commodity rather than a hazardous waste. Therefore, participating dentists did not have to register as small quantity generators and procedural transportation requirements were simplified. Participating dentists were charged a nominal $25-$50 to cover the costs of shipping.

In January 2001, the MA Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) and the MA Dental Society (MDS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding, to promote innovative solutions and technologies to reduce mercury and dental amalgam wastes and to increase its recovery and reuse. Initially, the agreement focused on developing educational/outreach programs to increase dentists' awareness about the adverse environmental impacts of mercury disposal and to increase their use of amalgam recovery technologies. To this end, DEP/EOEA worked with MA Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and MDS to develop and distribute a "Best Management Practices" wall placard for use by all MA dentists. DEP/EOEA funded the printing and mailing costs.

The parties also agreed to develop and implement solutions for:

-Collection, recycling, and retirement of existing inventories of bulk elemental mercury

-Recovery of used dental amalgam from suction on water lines

-Promotion of dental amalgam waste collection, recovery and proper disposition to prevent its disposal into the wastewater or solid waste streams The Massachusetts STrategic Envirotechnology Partnership (STEP) is undertaking an independent study to develop and implement a practical protocol for evaluating the performance, operation and maintenance, and cost of amalgam separator technologies. This information will allow dentists to make wise technology choices and allow technology vendors to better market their technologies.

The discharge of dental waste is one of the largest contributors of mercury to wastewater. The MWRA estimates that 10-15 percent of the man-made mercury going to the Deer Island wastewater treatment plant is from dental offices. While a number of in-office amalgam separator technologies are currently available on the market throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, these technologies are not commonly installed in dental offices.

With the help of an advisory committee, STEP is developing a formal testing protocol based on a combination of laboratory and field procedures. The advisory committee for the project includes the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the MWRA, the American Dental Association, the Massachusetts Dental Society, technical experts, environmental regulators, and environmental advocates from across the country. During Phase I of the project, existing protocols were reviewed and discussed, including the ISO protocol and the NSF/EPA protocol. Phase II of this project will build a bench test protocol that is reliable, rapid, inexpensive and does not use toxic materials to predict the dissolved and particulate mercury in the dental waste stream after treatment.

STEP is a collaborative effort of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the University of Massachusetts to promote the development and use of environmental technologies. Dr. Gordon Wallace, of the University of Massachusetts Boston, is the lead investigator on this project.

Project Contact
Name Linda Benevides
Phone 617-626-1197
Project Keywords
Activity Keywords Research and development
Newsletter Northeast States Pollution Prevention News - Vol. 11 No. 3, Fall 2001 [PDF]


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