Implementation Plan for Canada-Wide Standards on Mercury from Dental Amalgam Wastes

Signed by CCME Ministers in September, 2001.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), March 2002, between Environment Canada and the Canadian Dental Association.

Mercury is an element which occurs naturally in soil, vegetation and the atmosphere. Mercury is used in some consumer products, such as electrical switches, fluorescent tubes or amalgam for dental fillings, and can be released to the environment usually through disposal at the end of a product's useful life. Mercury can also contaminate products incidentally, posing a concern for product disposal. Significant reductions in mercury use in products has already occurred in Canada. Mercury is being phased out of the manufacturing of chlorine; the bulk of bleaches and alkalis available in Canada do not contain elevated mercury levels. Mercury has been eliminated from pesticides and paints in Canada, and most batteries are now mercury free.

Dental amalgam consists of approximately 50% mercury. An extremely beneficial material, amalgam becomes an issue upon its removal from teeth and during replacement of a filling. During filling removal, grinding produces small fragments of amalgam which pass through the traditional filter systems of dental offices and hence contaminate the sewer systems or septic beds serving these offices. Collection of amalgam fragments by filtration results in silver and mercury that can be recycled. However many dentists dispose of these fragments either in biomedical waste which is incinerated, in residential waste that may be incinerated, or by rinsing it down the sink.

The primary goal of the CWS is to achieve a 95% national reduction in mercury releases from dental amalgam waste discharges to the environment, by 2005, from the base year 2000.

Canada's overall approach to management of mercury from dental amalgam wastes will be:

  1. to implement the appropriate articles of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (March 2002), between Environment Canada and the Canadian Dental Association. Highlights of the MOU are:
    • Provision of estimates, for the baseline year 2000, for:
      1. number of Canadian dentists targeted for voluntary compliance
      2. quantities of amalgam waste generated
      3. amalgam waste collected based on information obtained from licensed waste haulers
    • develop in cooperation with the Canadian Dental Association, provinces and territories, a process for verification of "equipment equivalent to the criteria stated in the ISO 11143", as defined within the CWS; and,
    • organize 12 Regional workshops on "Best Management Practices for Amalgam Waste in Canada - 2002" to assist dental practitioners across Canada.

The Minister will cooperate with the governments of the other CCME jurisdictions through the actions and articles described in the joint EC/CDA MOU.

Information on the progress of mercury reductions from this sector will be posted and updated on Environment Canada's Web site.

The EC/CDA MOU states that EC will receive amalgam waste management data in electronic format on an annual basis from the Canadian Dental Association, from 2002 to 2007, and conduct data analyses and in cooperation with CDA, produce a summary report addressing the reported compliance with the Best Management Practices for Amalgam Waste in Canada - 2002.

It is anticipated that this action will result in a reduction of dental amalgam waste entering sewage treatment works with a consequent reduction in the amount of mercury is sewage sludge which may be applied to land, incinerated or disposed in a landfill.

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