Ready to Report: EPA

May 1, 2009
I have an infection-control problem with my employer. I read your infection-control column faithfully.

by Noel Kelsch, RDHAP
[email protected]

Dear Noel,
I have an infection-control problem with my employer. I read your infection-control column faithfully. I often clip it out and put it on my dentist's desk. You give really great information, but nothing is changing in our office. I have tried to talk to the dentist directly but he just shrugs and says, “I know.” I am so concerned for my safety and that of my patients. I am afraid that I need to take the next step and report him. Where do I start?
Ready to Report

Dear Ready,

This column in the February and March issues discussed how to report if the employee or patient is at risk. This month, we will discuss if the environment is at risk. Thank you, Ready, for having the courage and ethics to resolve this problem. Your example will make a difference to many.

Dental health-care professionals (DHCP) have a responsibility to keep the world a safe and healthy place for future generations. This responsibility requires us to evaluate each material that we use and the waste we generate. We have to make sure we comply with federal, state, and local environmental regulations. We must adhere to use, storage, and disposal laws.

Every day we work with chemical solutions, lead foil film backing, mercury, scrap dental amalgam, fluorescent tubes, and batteries. Each of these items helps us to provide quality care, and yet if they are not used or disposed of properly, they have a potentially harmful effect on the environment. For example, if liquid hazardous waste is poured down the drain into the sewer system, it can harm the wastewater treatment plant, rivers, ocean, and ground water, creating a public health hazard. Our actions affect our families, the community, and us.

There are a variety of methods that allow DHCP to manage most dental office waste as nonhazardous. These methods include:

  • Neutralize! Many chemicals can be neutralized, such as glutaraldehyde. Once this item is neutralized, it can be disposed of in the sewer.
  • Go green! Recycle! Recycling materials minimize potential impact on the environment and liability for the dental practice. Recycling should be the option selected whenever possible. Amalgam, silver, and lead waste can be recycled.
  • Read the label! Simply reading the label will allow you to know the general safety guidelines and disposal recommendations. It is your responsibility to make sure those recommendations comply with the law.

The regulations surrounding disposal and use differ from area to area. It is vital to be aware of federal, state, and local laws.

It is imperative for all DHCP to be aware of the laws that govern the environment we work in. If your employer or fellow employee is not complying with these laws, it is your ethical responsibility to report. You can report to your state agency or in some cases, to the county government. The health of everyone is depending on DHCP to keep the environment safe.


  • State environmental agencies This site contains federal and state EPA agencies.
  • Healthcare Environmental Resource Center, Dental waste recommendations and links to state regulations
  • Healthcare Without Harm, Dedicated to transforming the health-care sector worldwide without compromising patient care or safety, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to the public health and environment.

Federal regulations:

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people.