Wastewater treatment plants play an important role in protecting Colorado’s watersheds and sensitive ecosystems by treating wastewater from households, industries and small businesses. However, when mercury - a heavy metal associated with serious health effects - enters a wastewater treatment plant, it either settles out into the biosolids or passes through the plant and is discharged into Fountain Creek.
When mercury from medical, industrial, commercial or household sources is released into Fountain Creek, microorganisms convert some portion of this mercury into methylmercury, a toxic compound. Bioaccumulation of methylmercury in fish can present a health risk to humans and wildlife that consume the fish. As a neurotoxin, mercury slows fetal and child development, causes irreversible brain damage, and harms human ability to walk, talk, see and hear.
Mercury from dental offices is one measurable source that commonly enters wastewater treatment plants. Dental amalgam, commonly used for filling cavities in teeth, contains about 50 percent mercury. Other metals present in dental amalgam include copper, tin, silver and zinc. In the process of placing or removing amalgam fillings, mercury, as well as other metals, may be discharged to wastewater treatment plants. Dentists and their support staff routinely work with dental mercury and scrap dental amalgam. When properly handled, recycled, treated and/or disposed of, the environmental impact of mercury can be minimized.
We encourage local dental professionals to help minimize the release of mercury into the environment by using Best Management Practices (BMPs) regarding dental amalgam as established by the American Dental Association (ADA). Dental care professionals can effectively reduce mercury releases to Fountain Creek and other surface waters in Colorado by using the ADA recommended BMPs for dental amalgam in their offices.
We are currently developing a policy and program to reduce mercury discharge in our wastewater system. Learn more about our Mercury Reduction Program.