Water Journal : Water Journal April 2012
wastewater technical features 146 APRIL 2012 water In 2007, the WHO's Exposure to Mercury: A Major Public Health Concern advocated national monitoring and assessments of mercurial use, the promotion of alternatives to mercury and its elimination where possible (WHO 2007). The WHO also recommended a global approach to disposal and development of clean-up strategies. Official international concerns about mercurial penetration of the environment came to a head in February 2009. The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) agreed on a need to develop a legal instrument to internationally manage mercury. The UNEP Global Mercury Partnership proposal embraces over 140 national governments and activities that range from gold mining and coal combustion to dentistry. The global management of anthropogenic mercury is currently being prescribed. A treaty is due for submission to the Governing Council at the Global Ministerial Environment Forum in 2013. Further legislative intervention, both internationally and in Australia, is inevitable. Australian Developments The relationships between commonwealth and state constitutional powers mean that a network of authorities administer the water industry in Australia. It involves three tiers of government, environmental protection and waste management agencies, private corporations and water boards. Also reflecting the constitutional divisions in health administration, dental associations in Australia are largely autonomous state-based organisations that intermittently campaign under the umbrella of one national body, the ADA Inc. Against a post-2000 backdrop of tightening ad hoc trade waste legislations across Australia, state dental associations realised that, if the retention of amalgam was to be an option, they would have to negotiate at national level. The enormity and serious nature of emerging mercurial problems added momentum for a national approach. Impediments to negotiations appeared early in the new millennium: the presence of many administrators and decision makers; the inadequate transport and recycling infrastructure across Australia for the management of amalgam waste; and fears of reflex regulatory responses based on either state government or local authority parochialisms. Of course, like many businesses in Australia, dentists faced these developments at a time when the cost of compliance with many regulations was escalating rapidly. The presence of limited, if any, authoritative Australian data about dental surgeries' contribution to mercurial load to wastewater was another problem. However, circa 2002, there was an unusual development for dental politics in Australia. Following backflow prevention discussions with the Plumbing Commission, water industry representatives and the Environmental Protection Agency, a fortuitous window of opportunity opened up in Victoria. The Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch (ADAVB) began negotiations with the maze of authorities that included representatives from the state government, the EPA and water industry. The ADA Inc and other state dental associations discreetly observed developments. Data from Australia relating to chairside capture of amalgam waste was inadequate. In 2006, the Australian Industry Group, the ADAVB and South East Water engaged the engineering and consultancy agency URS Australia to investigate waste management practices for amalgam and Victorian dental surgeries' contributions to mercurial loads in sewers (Ash, undated). One key motivator was the mercurial contents of biosolids, which were at and above "EPA Victoria's biosolid land application and geotechnical fill guidelines." Methodology involved literature review and recovery of amalgam waste from six private practice surgeries. Australia's only EPA licensed recycler of mercurial waste, CMA Ecocycle, provided distillation technologies to execute mercurial analyses. The study aimed to assess amalgam waste generation, its contribution to mercurial load in sewerage systems and the effect of installation of ISO 111 43 compliant amalgam separators. The investigation estimated a per annum discharge of 210 kilograms of mercury from dental surgeries, with 80% deposited in Melbourne's sewers. Another cooperative effort accompanied the URS Australia investigations: a survey of ADAVB members' practices regarding amalgam harvest, storage and disposal. These projects, costed at $80,000, were funded by the Australian Industry Group through EPA Victoria ($35,000), South East Water ($40,000) and the ADAVB ($5,000). The Victorian-based waste management company, Sweeney Todd, resolved transport issues. Within 12 months, the ADA Inc had recommended separators in its Practical Guides and, more importantly, its Policy Statement 5.15. CMA Ecocycle became more involved. It introduced the trade waste approved and EPA licensed Amalgam Separator EC0AS04. It is compliant with Standard 111 43 and has 99.5% efficiency, no moving parts, no electronics and no power. Furthermore, it requires no maintenance from the dental auxiliary. The sealed unit is installed, intermittently collected and immediately replaced. The collected unit is forwarded for recycling, cleaning and eventual return. Throughout these negotiations and developments, the ADAVB remained committed to self-regulation. The ADAVB suggested an incentive scheme that led to a memorandum of understanding that evolved into another partnership program. In 2008, Victoria's Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Gavin Jennings, launched a three-year million-dollar project, Dentists for Cleaner Water, a water industry alliance between the Australian Industry Group, ADAVB and EPA Vic in partnership with water retailers. The former President of the Australian Dental Industry Association, Mr Expectoration into dental spittoons can transfer solids to wastewater and sewerage.
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