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 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 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.