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Choosing and Maintaining an Amalgam Separator

An ISO-certified amalgam separator, regularly maintained, is a key to wastewater and dangerous-waste compliance in dental offices. An effective amalgam separator is required in Washington state. Be prepared to shop around for the machine that works best for you. These separators vary widely in sophistication and effectiveness.

Choosing the right separator for your dental office depends upon a number of factors, including the number of operatories, compatibility with your vacuum system, ease of operation, maintenance and replacement frequency, and whether or not waste disposal is included in the contract with the vendor. Cost is also a prime consideration and may range from $300 to over $2000, depending on whether installation and maintenance are included and whether the equipment is leased or owned, and if waste disposal fees are included.

An appropriate separator:

ISO standards are developed by the International Standards Organization. The ISO is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies. The work of preparing International Standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. There are ISO standards developed specifically for dental amalgam separators. These standards are designed to ensure that the separator removes at least 95% of waste mercury from the dental wastewater before discharge to sewer.

The official ISO 11143 standard for amalgam separators was published on 12/1/99. Be sure that the separator you purchase was tested using the official ISO 11143 standards in place after 12/1/99. Your separator manufacturer should provide you with a copy of the one-page test report annex upon request. Don’t be fooled, some may claim that their amalgam separator is compliant with this standard and may not actually be ISO 11143 certified. Others may claim that they had their amalgam separator ISO 11143 tested before December 1, 1999. This poses a problem because their separator was only tested against the draft ISO 11143 standard and there are significant changes between the draft and the official standard.

Questions to ask amalgam waste service providers:

Related information

Federal Pretreatment Regulation, 40 CFR part 403, requires that all non-domestic sources of wastewater which represent significant sources of loadings which could harm POTW water systems must obtain a permit and meet local limits. Dentists must generally install and maintain an amalgam separator to meet those limits.

Amalgam Separators is a section on the Web site of the American Dental Association.

Fact Sheet - Mercury Use in Dental Amalgam from the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC).

Mercury-Dental Topic Hub™ from the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange offers pollution prevention resources to dental offices.

Dentists reminded to keep mercury out of their waste water is a press release from 2005.