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Sci Total Environ. 2006 Jun 1;362(1-3):74-84. Epub 2005 Jul 28.

High mercury emissions from dental clinics despite amalgam separators.

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Department of Earth Sciences, Air and Water Science, Uppsala University, Villav├Ągen 16, S-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.


Mercury (Hg) as amalgam has been used as a dental filling material for more than 150 years. Thereby, dentists and their patients have been directly exposed to Hg, and the public and the environment indirectly exposed via Hg emissions from incinerators and Hg in waste water from households and dental clinics. Due to the toxic properties of Hg and bioaccumulation in biota of Hg emitted via dental clinic waste water, amalgam separators were introduced in Sweden in the 1980s. Although these amalgam separators in the certification process are required to remove at least 95% of incoming Hg in a standardized laboratory test, their efficiency in practical use has not been properly investigated. Here we present actual Hg emissions via waste water from 12 dental clinics equipped with the same type of amalgam separator based on sedimentation. All waste water was collected for four consecutive working days, initially at ordinary operating conditions and a second time after a thorough revision and cleaning of the discharge system. The results indicate that mercury emissions from dental clinics can be reduced by an improved design of the discharge system, a sensible use of high pressure water cleaning, and regular maintenance, including replacement of amalgam separators and filters at certain intervals. The study also indicates that banning Hg in dentistry is the one long-term way to stop Hg emissions from dental amalgam.

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