Regulatory compliance is essential to running a successful dental facility, and proper waste management is certainly important to that effort. Dental facilities generate a significant amount of waste that is subject to local, state and federal regulations during day-to-day operations – waste that requires special handing to ensure compliance with those regulations. To help you gain a good working knowledge of what these wastes are and how they must be handled, here are the basics on dental facilities and the waste they produce.
Overall, there are four main types of regulated waste produced by dental facilities; Amalgam waste, hazardous waste, medical waste and pharmaceutical waste. Each must be segregated from general waste and handled according to regulatory guidelines.
Since it contains mercury, amalgam waste is regulated as hazardous waste and requires careful management to ensure that it does not pose a threat to the public or the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that dental facilities protect against the discharge of amalgam waste into public sewer systems by complying with the agency’s pretreatment standards. These standards, put into place in 2017, require that dental facilities use amalgam separators that remove at least 95 percent of amalgam from waste water. Amalgam waste collected by these separators should be recycled. Other types of amalgam waste, such as empty amalgam capsules, scrap amalgam left over after procedures, or extracted teeth containing amalgam, for example, must also be separated for recycling, as this waste cannot be sent to a landfill, incinerated or autoclaved due to environmental and health and safety concerns.
Other Hazardous Waste
Dental facilities commonly generate a number of waste products that are regulated as hazardous waste by state and federal agencies. Aside from amalgam, which we’ve already discussed, hazardous waste products commonly managed in the dental care environment include:
- X-ray film
- X-ray fixer
- Some X-ray developers
- EPA-listed substances, such as some adhesives, sterilants and disinfectants, or any waste that has the properties of hazardous waste as defined by the EPA, which are ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity.
Regulated hazardous waste must be segregated into approved containers and sent to licensed hazardous waste treatment/disposal facilities. Additionally, transporting this waste to those approved facilities generally must be done by permitted hazardous waste transporters.
Regulated medical waste is also a factor in dental care, and must be handled in compliance with all relevant regulations. Among the most common types of medical waste generated by dental facilities are:
- Sharps waste – This category of waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be handled according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogen Standard. Waste products that fall into this category include used needles, scalpels and blades, orthodontic wires and dental probes, for example, or any other waste item that can cut or puncture the skin. Sharps waste must be segregated into approved sharps containers at the point of use for the protection of your staff and the public.
- Biohazardous waste – This category includes potentially infectious waste products, such as blood, gauze or other soft materials that are saturated with blood or other body fluids, and pathological waste – extracted teeth, for instance. These items must be separated into approved biohazard containers at the point of use.
Regulated medical waste must be stored in approved containers and sent for proper treatment and/or disposal in approved medical waste facilities.
Pharmaceutical waste is defined by the EPA as drugs or other pharmaceuticals that are expired or unused. Common examples in the dental care environment include:
- Anesthesia drugs
- Partially used or expired over-the-counter drugs
- Unused or expired prescription drugs
Pharmaceutical waste products must be segregated into specialized containers, and sent to qualified pharmaceutical waste disposal sites. Controlled substances are the exception to that rule, and must be sent to a facility registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
While knowing these general guidelines can help you ensure that waste generated in your dental facility is handled in a safe and compliant manner, it is important to note that they are not all-inclusive. Avoiding compliance mistakes and their environmental and legal consequences means learning the details of each of the many local, state and federal regulations that apply to all types of waste generated by your facility. Partnering with a solid, full-service waste management company can make things much easier by providing the expertise, services and training you and your staff need to create and maintain an efficient and compliant waste management process.