Dental amalgam understandably receives a lot of attention in dental waste management discussions. This is primarily because of the importance of correctly handling the mercury found in dental amalgam waste that is often generated during certain procedures that are common in all dentist offices, such as filling cavities.
If released through wastewater systems in bulk amounts, that mercury could be harmful to humans and the broader environment. Because of this, the Environmental Protection Agency understandably requires most dental facilities to install and use amalgam separators that then allow the waste to be properly disposed of.
But mercury found in dental amalgam waste is not the only element of concern for dental practices and the waste products they generate. Dentists and others who work in their practices must also be aware of the importance of following best practices for disposing of and recycling silver and lead waste.
We have covered at length the widely recognized best practices for handling dental amalgam waste, but, for this blog, we will be taking a more in-depth look at why silver and lead waste disposal also needs to be discussed and prepared for in all dental facilities.
Have a plan for silver and lead waste management
The dental industry has, in general, placed a heightened emphasis on ensuring proper handling of all types of waste encountered by its practitioners. As such, the American Dental Association has begun to study and make recommendations for how best to deal with the many types of waste generated in dental practices.
This includes silver and lead. The ADA Council on Scientific Affairs has compiled a document that provides general guidance for how best to manage silver and lead waste in dental offices.
We will go over some of the highlights found in that report, but it should be noted that all managers of dental practices and other related facilities should also check for local and state regulations that may be unique to their location to ensure they are in compliance with all guidelines and regulations.
Silver in dental amalgam, x-ray fixer and developer
Silver can be found in several different types of waste in a dental facility or practice. It’s one of the other elements found in dental amalgam, giving this type of cavity filling its silver appearance. Like the mercury found in dental amalgam waste, the amount of silver found in cavity fillings is not harmful to the individual, even if they have many fillings.
Silver can also be found in both x-ray fixer and developer, although again in small quantities. According to the ADA, dental offices are not responsible for the bulk of silver waste generated by facilities that use x-rays and offer those services.
Still, it is illegal in most municipalities to dispose of silver in general wastewater systems. That is because silver can pose adverse environmental effects, including potential harm to aquatic life. So, silver must be properly recycled or disposed of whenever it is handled.
How dentists can dispose of or recycle silver
In its report, the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs provides several recommendations and additional guidance for how best to dispose of or recycle silver.
In-office silver recovery unit
One option is to use an in-office silver recovery unit. This equipment removes silver from fixer solutions. The used fixer cartridge then can be recycled once the silver has been extracted.
This option is economical and generally seen as an easy way to follow regulations regarding silver disposal.
Use a recycling or drop-off service
Dental facilities can also utilize a service that offers pickup and recycling services for fixer solutions that have been collected. Many of these services can also handle other types of waste, so be sure to ask or look for a comprehensive solution.
Other services may require you to travel to them and drop off used fixer solution, but these are still convenient to use if available in your location.
Send used fixer to another facility
It may also be possible for a practice to enter into an agreement to send used x-ray fixer solution to either a facility that reclaims silver or another radiology laboratory that also must dispose of the fixer.
Lead in dental facilities
Lead is another common form of waste for which dental practices must know how to dispose of in a proper manner that follows regulations. As an element that is toxic to both people and animals, the use of lead and its waste are tightly regulated.
In dental facilities, lead can be found in aprons and collars that are used to reduce radiation exposure to patients during x-ray procedures. Lead is also found in the foil of intraoral film packets.
How dentists can dispose of lead waste
Dental facilities have a couple of options for getting rid of lead waste that they generate.
Use a hazardous waste company
The best methods for dealing with lead waste include hiring a hazardous waste company that specializes in taking care of hazardous waste. A reputable company will be able to prove that they are licensed to dispose of the waste. They should also provide dental practices with documentation to show that they received and took care of the waste.
Send the lead to a recycling facility
Many of today’s lead products can use recycled lead. Some recyclers can take lead from dental facilities and then get the material where it needs to go so that it can be utilized again in some other manner. Again, though, company’s need to be vetted to make sure they are reputable and can handle the waste you may send to them.
DRNA is the complete regulatory solution for the dental community
Whether it is silver, lead, dental amalgam, sharps or another form of waste that those in dentistry must know how to properly handle, DRNA offers solutions.
As the complete regulatory solution for the dental community, DRNA makes sure all practices and facilities that we work with remain in total compliance with all local, state and federal guidelines and regulations. We are not just a leader in dental waste management, we are also a partner.
Contact us today to learn how we can partner with your business or institution.