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March 22, 2001

MWRA Receives Award for Mercury Reduction Work with Dentists

MWRA today received a Green Seals Award from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs for its cooperative program with the dental community to reduce mercury emissions in MWRA wastewater.

Environmental Affairs Secretary Bob Durand presented the award to the MWRA Dental Project Team during the monthly MWRA board of directors meeting held today in the Charlestown Navy Yard. MWRA attorney Charles Bering, who leads the dental project, accepted the award for his team.

"I commend the MWRA for taking a leadership role on this important issue," said Secretary Durand, "This work will bring us that much closer to the virtual elimination of man-made mercury emissions into the environment." Durand also credited the MWRA with paving the way for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS), aiming to reduce mercury emissions across the commonwealth.

Mercury amalgam used in fillings can enter the environment through the wastewater coming out of dentists’ offices. There are approximately 850 dental facilities in the MWRA sewerage system area. In 1997 the MWRA performed a study which estimated that the dental community may be releasing anywhere from 1/10 to 1/3 pounds per day, or 13% to 25% of MWRA’s total daily mercury load at the time.

Since then the MWRA has been working closely with the dental community and with the EOEA and DEP to help realize a statewide strategy of reducing mercury emissions by 75 percent by 2010. The ultimate goal is virtual elimination of mercury emissions in the following years. In 1998, Governor Paul Cellucci, along with the other New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers, adopted a Regional Mercury Action Plan with the goal of virtual elimination of man-made mercury.

After determining that dental offices represented a mercury reduction opportunity, MWRA’s Toxic Reduction and Control team worked with the MDS to recommended best management practices to dentists. Currently MWRA is working with MDS to test the effectiveness of five different separation technologies which can be used by dentists to extract amalgam from their wastewater before it gets into the MWRA system. That testing may be done by the end of this summer.

"There are several effective products on the market that can significantly reduce mercury discharges to the wastewater" said Bering. In general, Bering said use of these systems is not something that is going to hurt dentists financially.

MWRA’s wastewater discharges to Massachusetts Bay and fertilizer pellets currently meet federal and state standards for mercury and other toxic compounds. However the MWRA is studying sources of mercury in its system and potential control measures to ensure future compliance, and, if possible, to further reduce its mercury load. Other sources of mercury to the wastewater system include industries, homes, hospitals and groundwater infiltration. MWRA’s drinking water sources, do not contain mercury.