By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

In another proposal aimed at small business, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just proposed a rule for Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Dental Category. 79 Fed. Reg. 63258 (October 22, 2014). The rule will add more federal compliance costs and potential local treatment facility user fees to already tight dental office budgets.

The EPA proposed technology-based pretreatment standards under the Clean Water Act will be for discharges of pollutants into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) from existing and new dental practices that discharge dental amalgam. Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper. Approximately fifty percent of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight. Dental amalgam is a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. It has been used for more than 150 years in hundreds of millions of patients.

EPA estimates there are approximately 160,000 dentists working in over 120,000 dental offices who use or remove amalgam in the United States – “almost all of whom discharge their wastewater exclusively to POTWs.” According to the EPA news release, “this is a common sense rule that calls for capturing mercury at a relatively low cost before it is dispersed into the POTW.”

Specifically the rule would require dentists to cut their dental amalgam discharges to a level achievable through the use of the “best available technology,” known as amalgam separators, and the use of other Best Management Practices. Amalgam separators are devices designed to remove amalgam waste particles from dental office wastewater.

As proposed the rule would allow dentists to demonstrate compliance by installing, operating and maintaining amalgam separators. The rule also provides that dental practices whose existing separators do not remove the percentage of amalgam in the proposed requirements as meeting the proposed requirements for the life of the existing separator. The rule also proposes to limit dental dischargers’ reporting requirements to annual certification and recordkeeping in lieu of wastewater monitoring. EPA estimates the annual cost of the proposed rule would be $44 to $49 million.

In response to the proposed rule the American Dental Association said that the “the Association has consulted with the EPA as it developed the rule and supports a reasonable national pretreatment standard for amalgam waste so long as it is not unduly burdensome on dental professionals.” ADA News Release, September 26, 2014.

A public hearing on the proposed rule is scheduled for November 10, 2014, at 1 p.m. ET, in the William J. Clinton East Building, Room 1153, 1201 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC. Comments may be submitted to Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2014–0693.