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Amalgam Waste

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Separation of Mercury from Amalgam Wastes

City of Palo Alto, California
 Environmental Compliance


The Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) treats wastewater from the East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Stanford. The Environmental Compliance Division maintains a Pretreatment Program for control of industrial dischargers and also regulates many commercial dischargers.

Pollution prevention information and programs are supplied to residents as well as businesses within the service area. Public outreach information is included as part of the programs described in most of the pages. If you can't find the information you need please contact us.

Phone: 650/329-2598.
Fax: 650/494-3531
e-mail: cleanbay@city.palo-alto.ca.us
Mail: PARWQP - Environmental Compliance
2501 Embarcadero Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303


Mercury Pollution Prevention


Each year, about 20 pounds of mercury arrive at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP). Sources of mercury discharge to wastewater include laboratories, hospitals, dental offices, human waste, food waste, household products, and storm water inflow. Since 1997, the RWQCP has quantified the relative importance of mercury sources using local sampling information in conjunction with data from other wastewater treatment plants and the scientific literature. The source identification study was updated in March 2001, leading to the pie chart presented here.


A complete discussion of this analysis is available in PDF form (Barron, 2001) (52k). The analysis reflects new information from local dental surveys and recent estimates of residential loadings from the American Metropolitan Sewerage Association (AMSA, 2000).Technical reviews are invited.

More information about mercury:

Don't Flush Mercury Down the  Drain!


See dentalposter.pdf

Dental Offices and Mercury


Recent studies show relatively high levels of mercury accumulating in fish, clams, and other organisms in the San Francisco Bay. Mercury arrives at Bay Area wastewater treatment plants every day. The plants then release most of this mercury to the environment through treated effluent and sludge disposal. Some of this mercury reaches the Bay and contributes to the the overall mercury loading.

Studies by different wastewater treatment agencies indicate that from 12% to as much as 60% of the mercury in the wastewater arriving at the treatment plant comes from dental offices.

Residential flows are another major source of mercury, accounting for 44% of the mercury in the Palo Alto study. Human waste from individuals with amalgam fillings accounts for at least 80% of that total residential mercury (Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, 2000). Palo Alto's findings are discussed in the Mercury Source Identification Study and Update found on the Mercury Publications page.

Mercury flushed down the drain goes straight to the bay.

What Can a Dental Office Do to Help?

Don't Flush Mercury-Containing Wastes Down the Drain
-6 Tips-
Recycle used dental amalgam

Never rinse traps in the sink. The trapped mercury-containing amalgam will go directly to the sewer and wastewater treatment plant, which isn't equipped to handle it.

Don't put mercury-containing waste in medical waste containers. Incineration and solid-waste disposal can release mercury directly into the environment.

Empty used amalgam capsules do not require special handling. You may put them in the trash.

Don't place other materials in your mercury waste or recycling containers. The added volume will cost more and may make disposal or recycling more difficult.

Don't mix waste streams without checking with your waste hauler first. Mixing may limit recycling and disposal options and result in higher costs.

Talk to your waste hauler about specific handling requirements for each mercury-containing waste stream.

Additional Information
For more information about proper collection and disposal of mercury and amalgam waste (including names and phone numbers for amalgam recyclers) see the "Set a Shining Example" [398k] PDF poster for dental offices.

For information about supplementary filters or settling devices see the Mercury Amalgam Treatment Techniques for Dental Offices [81k] PDF.

Dental Mercury: A Comparison of Waste Management Practices for the Dental Office [805k] PDF.This technical presentation was delivered at the February 14, 2001 meeting of the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group. It describes where mercury waste is generated in a dental office and how this affects the ability of treatment devices to trap such waste. It further compares, in hypothetical dental office situations, the percent of dental mercury that would be prevented from reaching the sewer using preferred office practices ("best management practices") versus enhanced treatment technology.

List of Bay Area wastewater treatment agencies [10k] PDF

Free Posters
For a laminated color copy of "Set a Shining Example" or the Mercury Pollutin Prevention Poster for dentists you can e-mail us or call (650)329-2421.

Free Consultation
Are you a dentist in the Regional Water Quality Control Plant's service area? (East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Stanford) You can have a free in-office consultation. We can review your operation and offer technical advice for improving the collection of amalgam waste. You can e-mail us or call (650)329-2421.

Wastewater Discharge Requirements
Wastewater discharge requirements for dental offices vary. Dentists are encouraged to contact their local wastewater treatment plant to find out about the requirements and recommendations specific to their area. To find the wastewater treatment plant for your location please refer to the list of Bay Area wastewater treatment agencies. You can also get this list as a PDF.

Links to Other Sites
King County, Washington: Hazardous Waste Handling for Dentists

The Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group (BAPPG) is a voluntary association of municipal wastewater treatment agencies that collaborate on pollution prevention projects to reduce the amount of toxic pollutants discharged into San Francisco Bay. The BAPPG has helped to bring this information together.

The Mid-Peninsula Dental Society
A special thanks for their collaboration in preparing the information on this page.

City of Palo Alto Mercury Pages


Mercury Publications


The documents provided here are in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. For instructions go to the PDF page.


For an excellent review see Dental Mercury, Pollution Prevention and Waste Management Practices for the Dental Office from the City of Palo Alto, CA. http://www.city.palo-alto.ca.us/cleanbay/pdf/mercurydentsl.pdf


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