Dangerous waste in dental offices comes from dental procedures, equipment, and cleaning solutions.

Dangerous waste requirements

Your dental office is required to properly handle and dispose of dangerous waste. Learn more about identifying, handling, and disposing of dangerous waste. Most dental offices are small quantity generators of dangerous waste.

Common wastes in dental offices

The most common types of dangerous waste in dental offices come from:

Dangerous waste does not include biohazard or infectious wastes like swabs saturated with blood.

Dental amalgam is an alloy that contains mercury, as well as silver, tin, copper, and other metals. Mercury levels vary, but most dental amalgams exceed environmentally safe mercury levels. Amalgam wastes contaminate chair-side traps, vacuum pump filters, and septic systems.

Amalgam wastes usually have the waste codes D009 for mercury and D011 for silver (and possibly other codes).

Amalgam separators

Amalgam separators are required in all dental offices that use mercury-containing amalgams. Dental wastewater contains anywhere from 100 - 2,000 parts per million (ppm) of mercury. State regulations limit safe levels to 0.2 ppm or lower. Separators catch any scrap amalgam that is too fine for traps or screens before it reaches the sewer system. Separators can remove up to 99 percent of the mercury in dental wastewater, and that mercury can be recycled. Separators must be ISO 14011 certified.

Chair-side traps

Chair-side traps can be disposable or reusable. Disposable traps tend to be safer because it is difficult to remove reusable traps without spilling amalgam waste into the drain or garbage. Also, if your suction system can handle it, choose size 100 mesh traps over size 40. The smaller mesh is more effective at trapping amalgam particles.

Recycle both scrap (non-contact) and contact amalgam through an amalgam recycler or hazardous waste hauler. Your recycler will have specific requirements you need to follow in order for them to take it.

  • Store all contact and non-contact scrap amalgam inside tightly closed containers.
  • Label the containers: Dangerous Waste Mercury and Toxic.
  • If you must disinfect, do not use any method that uses heat. Heat turns mercury volatile.
  • If you store scrap amalgam under used x-ray fixer, water, or other liquid, do not decant the liquid down the drain.

Keep scrap amalgam out of:

  • Sharps containers, or where it will end up in the red biohazard bag.
  • Trash bins.
  • Drains.
  • High-speed suctions (like the vacuum line).

Reusable chair-side traps

  • Flush the vacuum system with disinfectant before changing the trap. Allow contents to dry.
  • Open the chair-side dental unit to expose amalgam trap. Allow contents to dry.
  • Remove non-amalgam particles (such as cement) with cotton forceps and put in the garbage.
  • Remove amalgam by tapping the contents into a container labeled: CONTACT AMALGAM.
  • If the trap is visually clean, it can be reused. If not, place the trap in the container as well.
  • Close the lid tightly.
  • Dispose as dangerous waste or recycle.

Disposable chair-side traps

  • Remove trap and place into a container labeled: CONTACT AMALGAM.
  • Close the lid tightly.
  • Dispose as dangerous waste or recycle.

Vacuum pump filters

Replace vacuum pump filters regularly as recommended by the equipment manufacturer. Use universal precautions when handling the filters.

  • Remove the filter and hold it over a tray or other container to catch spills.
  • Decant as much liquid as possible without losing visible amalgam.
  • Put the lid on the filter.
  • Place it in the box the filter was originally shipped.
  • Recycle the box of filters when full. (Check if your amalgam recycler will take these filters).

Extracted teeth with amalgam restorations

  • Put in your CONTACT AMALGAM container.
  • Never place extracted teeth with amalgam restorations in the red biohazard bag.
  • Use universal precautions when handling extracted teeth (glasses, gloves,and mask).

Waste amalgam capsules

Amalgam capsules may contain small amounts of mercury even after mixing.

  • Put all capsule waste, including any defective capsules, in your container with other non-contact scrap amalgam.
  • Ask your amalgam recycler if they will take capsules with your scrap amalgam.

If your amalgam recycler doesn't accept capsules, find a waste service provider who does.

Used x-ray fixer

X-ray fixer contains high levels of silver. Consider switching to digital imaging to avoid dealing with this type of waste at all.

  • Put used fixer in a container marked “Used fixer only” and keep it separate from developer.
  • Dispose through a waste service provider or ask your supplier to take it back.
  • Waste code: D011

Unused x-ray developer

  • Contains hydroquinone.
  • Waste code: WTO2.
  • If fixer and developer are accidentally mixed, the mixture must be disposed as dangerous waste.

X-ray film

Used x-ray film contains silver. Most film does not contain enough silver to make it a dangerous waste, but it is best to collect it for silver recycling.

Lead foil, boxes, and aprons

Lead is a dangerous waste and should not be put in the garbage, or sharps or red biohazard bags.

  • Collect lead foil from x-ray packets and put it with your other dangerous waste recycling.
  • Lead-lined boxes (old-fashioned x-ray storage boxes with untreated lead lining) are extremely dangerous and must be disposed properly. These boxes cannot be converted for other uses.
  • Lead aprons, once no longer usable, must be disposed as dangerous waste. Contact the original vendor to see if they will recycle them for you, or go through your waste service provider.
You may have more than what is on the above list. Contact your regional Ecology office to get help. Our staff can help identify rules you need to follow and answer questions.

One-time compliance report for dental dischargers

The EPA's finalized Dental Effluent Guidelines (federal rule 40 CFR Part 441) require qualifying dental offices submit a one-time compliance report.