Practice Tips #118: Amalgam Separators - Know Your Options

Do you know your options for amalgam separators? In Practice Tips #24: “The Right Amalgam Separator for You” we covered the old rules on amalgam separators and tips on how to choose one suited for your needs. Since then there have been a few updates. Although the core regulation covering amalgam separators, the ISO standard 11143-2008 has remained unchanged. Amalgam separators are required across the United States per the EPA’s final rule of 2017.

EPA Guidelines

There used to be just a few areas of the United States, each with their own rules and requirements. The EPA now mandates nation-wide use of amalgam separators. The guidelines call for the installation of amalgam separators certified under the ISO standard in ALL dental offices that remove amalgam and discharge waste into publicly owned treatment works (POTW).

Amalgam has long been recognized as a safe and effective restorative material. The American Dental Association lists an ISO11143-2008 certified amalgam separator as part of their BMP’s for handling amalgam waste.

Many local regulations have requirements that exceed the EPA guidelines. Existing local regulations are more stringent than the EPA rule. If you are in an area that already requires use of amalgam separators and have a compliant separator, no changes are necessary.

Amalgam Separators - The Simple One

PHOTO: A Simple Chair-side System (#AL-30)

The ISO standard involves testing to certify a separator removes at least 95% of all amalgam from the waste stream. Most separators on the market are certified above that level (typically above 99% to conform to strict local regulations).

All you need to do is find the cheapest certified separator on the market, right? Not necessarily.

How Many Do You Need?

First, you’ll need to consider how many total operatories you have and how many users. There are two different chair-side systems on the market which are #AL-30 and #AL-10. They are among the least costly options available. If you have several operatories (or more), the cost of purchasing multiple chair-side systems will be higher than just purchasing a single system (such as the previously mentioned AL-30 and AL-10) to connect to the central vacuum.

For units installed at the central vacuum, you’ll also need to compare these system’s specifications for capacity. Capacity typically means the total number of users they work with to the total number of users at any given time in your office.

Amalgam Separation - The Eco II+

PHOTO: ECO II+ System Installed on the Central Vacuum (#AL-63)

Cartridge Life

Next, you’ll need to consider the average filter life. One separator filter could have  an expected life of 6 months and another has a full year. Even if the longer-lived cartridge is more costly and as long as the price isn’t double, it will still be less expensive over the life of the separator. It’s generally best to amortize total costs over a 5 year period to determine what truly is the most cost effective solution for you.

Add up the cost of the system, the costs of any replacement cartridges required over 5 years and the costs of recycling (if not included with replacement cartridges). Compare the total costs over 5 years to determine what is actually most economical.

Asdex Amalgam Separator

PHOTO: Asdex Compact System Designed for Installing Chair-side (#AL-10).

Installation Location

Last of all, you’ll need to consider your own office set-up and operations. Even if a system installed at the central vacuum looks cheaper on paper, the ease of installation of a chair-side system may make it more attractive. Chair-side systems simply installed in a few minutes by any member of staff. Whereas central systems are generally installed on the plumbing (they may require a plumber or dental equipment technician).

Chair-side systems are also easier to monitor to make certain you keep on top of necessary cartridge replacements. If not carefully monitored on a regular basis, some centrally installed systems can enter by-pass when full, which will take you out of compliance. Regardless of where your system is located, it should be checked on a weekly basis to make certain cartridges are replaced when full.

The use of an amalgam separator certified under ISO standard 11143 is a federally mandated requirement. After you know your options for amalgam separators, make certain you can stay in compliance without spending too much.


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