Keeping Up with Waste Compliance
It’s as easy as 1-2-3…
Keeping up with waste compliance can be confusing and expensive. With dental offices subject to numerous regulations at the federal, state, and local level, knowing which compliance protocols are applicable to your practice isn’t easy. Not to mention, waste is a broad category comprised of a variety of issues that lack actionable solutions. Thankfully, compliance is easier to achieve than it seems. Here’s a breakdown of key waste compliance issues in terms of their (a) problems, (b) regulations, and (c) solutions:
1. Bio-Hazard and Sharps Waste
THE PROBLEM: Many dental practices opt for a waste disposal pickup service that is unknowledgeable of dental regulations. As a result, dentists may be locked into confusing contracts without a point of contact that understands their compliance needs–leaving dental professionals responsible for understanding their requirements or risk non-compliance.
THE REGULATIONS: Specifics concerning bio-hazard and sharps regulations vary by state, with each state requiring one of these disposal practices:
- Both sharps and soft waste are to be disposed of after a designated time limit
- Both sharps and soft waste are to be disposed of once the container is full
- Only sharps are to be disposed of once the container is full and soft waste is to be disposed of after designated time limit
THE SOLUTION: Mail-back systems are a convenient and cost-effective alternative to pickup services. Ranging from 1-quart to 30-gallon containers, these mail-back systems eliminate the use of costly pickup services and include a prepaid return shipping box that allows for complete tracking and documentation. When ready, simply place your container in the prepaid return box and leave it to be picked up along with the rest of your packages.
2. Mercury Waste
THE PROBLEM: Much of the mercury that enters our wastewaters originates from dental amalgam. Tiny particles of amalgam can bypass chairside traps every time an amalgam filling is placed or removed. After water treatment, mercury is distributed back in the form of precipitation and consumed by fish, making its way into our food chain.
THE REGULATIONS: At least 12 states and numerous localities have mandatory mercury pretreatment programs in place. At the federal level, the EPA recently announced that it would be formulating a nationwide rule regulating disposal methods for dental amalgam. This rule is expected to be finalized in the near future.
THE SOLUTION: It is possible to eliminate mercury pollution by installing an amalgam separator. Installation is extremely simple and allows dentists to eliminate 99% of their mercury waste, and maintenance usually involves replacing the canister once it’s full, generally every 6-12 months.
3. X-Ray Waste
THE PROBLEM: Dental offices generate many different forms of waste as a result of traditional x-ray processing that can have a serious impact on wastewaters and soil.
THE REGULATIONS: The disposal of used fixer is strictly regulated nationwide due to its high toxicity level. However, many regulations can vary significantly by location. To determine your waste disposal requirements, contact your local OSHA office, wastewater treatment agency, or state dental association.
THE SOLUTION: X-ray waste can be prevented from entering the environment by implementing an x-ray waste collection and recycling program. This includes capturing lead waste in an approved UN/DOT storage container, filtering used fixer via a photo chemical filter to remove silver content, and recycling x-ray film. The optimal solution is to shift to a digital x-ray system.
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