Silver Recovery Canisters for Used X-ray Fixer in Dental Offices

Using silver recovery units for the management of used fixer only makes economic and practical sense if the flow of used fixer is at least 2-3 gallons per week. Most dental offices generate a gallon or less of used fixer per month; not enough flow to make on site silver recovery cost-effective, due to the cost of buying and periodic replacement of the two required units. Such minimal flow also allows the steel wool in the recovery units to rust between uses, making the units ineffective in as little as 6 months after first use.

Setting up two silver recovery canisters in a series can range from $200 to $1,700. Operating, changeover, and testing costs can add an additional $150-$300 annually. Most dental offices only generate ½ to 1 gallon of used fixer per month, making proper on-site silver recovery not very cost-effective.

Find a hazardous waste service provider that can help you to manage silver waste

Two Canisters in a Series Are Required

Dentists that use Silver Recovery Canisters for their used x-ray fixer should consider that two silver recovery canisters in a series are required.

Businesses choosing to use silver recovery canisters at their office for on-site silver recovery need to use two in a series, unless routine testing shows that their sewer outflow consistently meets hazardous waste and local sewer silver discharge limits. Two canisters in a series can reduce silver concentrations to about 1 part per million (ppm). One canister, even of high quality, will show diminishing returns after being used a few times and will eventually stop working.

Monitor the Flow of Used Solutions Into the Canisters

If the flow is too fast, the proper reaction won’t happen inside the canister and you won’t meet silver discharge limits for sewer. If it is too slow, the canister may deteriorate too soon. Use a metered pump system or a restricted gravity feed system and keep flow rates at manufacturers recommendations, usually between 1-3 gallons per hour.

Have a Sample Valve Installed Between the Two Silver Recovery Canisters

Use this valve to take samples of the effluent from the first canister. Using silver test papers, check the sample to see when the first canister is spent. Silver test paper can detect silver at levels between 200 and 500 parts per million (ppm). When your first canister reaches this level, it is time to rotate it out, putting your second canister first in line and adding a new, second canister. In addition, if your tubing between canisters is clear plastic, you can visually inspect the solution flowing through — if it is brown or has debris in it, this is a good sign that the working ability of the first canister is spent.

Test Outflow Regularly

Take periodic samples of recovered silver-bearing waste over the life span of a canister and have the waste analyzed by a laboratory for silver to see if it meets hazardous waste and local sewer silver discharge limits. Keep a file with all test data in it — you’ll have a starting point from which to make refinements to your process.

Perform Regular Maintenance

Follow the recommendations in the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

Keep a Maintenance/Changeover Log

Work closely with your supplier for help in developing a changeover schedule based on your volumes of silver-bearing solutions. Ask your supplier if they provide a full service waste management arrangement.

Fill Silver Recovery Canisters With Water

Filling the canisters with water before initially putting them into service will extend the life of canisters by preventing the steel wool from dissolving as they fill with fixer.

Special Local Sewer Discharge Limits

Some sewer districts in the state have set their own local silver discharge limits for businesses. This is in order to help the sewage treatment plant meet its own discharge levels for silver into waters of the state. In many locations, sewer discharge levels are so low that businesses using on-site silver recovery technologies such as electrolytic recovery and CRCs will have difficulty meeting these levels. Similar low limits are continuing to be developed in other areas of the state. Businesses located in areas with strict current or future local sewer limits may have no choice but to explore off-site options.

Municipality Silver Limit (ppm)
Aberdeen 0.2 No
Chehalis 0.2 No
Clark County 0.1 No
Everett 0.69 Yes
Federal Way 0.5 No
Kalama 0.1 No
Lynnwood 0.5 Yes
Olympia (LOTT) 0.2 Yes
Pierce County 0.2 Yes
Richland 0.2 Yes
King County (Metro) 3.0 Yes
Spokane 0.43 Yes
Tacoma 0.2 Yes
Vancouver 0.1 Yes

All dental offices using silver recovery canisters to recover silver from X-ray fixer should contact their local sewer utility for more information about local limits.

Related information

A Guide for Photo Processors is an Ecology publication that offers practical environmental management and pollution prevention information for photo processors. 

Search for Accredited Laboratories to hire a lab to test your silver-recovery canister outflow

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