Top tips for tackling the hidden dangers of mercury vapour

Every year across the UK, dentists perform millions of mercury amalgam fillings. Although banned in some countries due to concerns about exposing dentists and staff to excesses of mercury vapour, the material is still a staple of many consulting rooms nationwide. Even where surgeries are amalgam free, some patients will still require amalgam fillings to be extracted and replaced, creating a risk of exposure as mercury vapours are released during the process.

Phillip Steer, Commercial Manager – Clinical
Phillip Steer, Commercial Manager – Clinical

The dangers of inhaling mercury vapour and the long-term impact on health have been well documented, which is why the Health and Safety Executive has stipulated that dentists must keep levels of exposure to dental amalgam in their surgeries below the maximum limit of 0.05 milligrams/cubic metre.

By taking the right precautions, the likelihood of mercury vapour being inhaled can be dramatically reduced and the clinical waste team at Grundon Waste Management already help many dental surgeries to combat the problem.

Phillip Steer, Commercial Manager – Clinical, says: “The risks associated with amalgam and mercury vapour are well recognised, but in a busy surgery sometimes complacency can set in. If spillages or equipment breakages happen, people often don’t notice that mercury droplets have escaped.

“In addition, there may be historic mercury spills which were incorrectly managed at the time and continue to put staff at risk because the mercury has become lodged underneath apparatus or flooring.

“Our new mercury vapour indicator can detect tiny traces of mercury, allowing our teams to know where it is present, after which the decontamination work can begin.”

Top Tips

  • Have a waste management policy that includes what to do in an emergency, such as an amalgam spill, and train your staff on it
  • Always keep an in-date amalgam spillage kit. Never use a standard vacuum cleaner as the heat can cause the mercury vapours to become more concentrated
  • As part of the waste management plan, find a company that can assist in cleaning up a new spill or advise if a historical spill is discovered
  • Make sure the correct PPE is always available for all staff
  • Amalgam, in any form, prior to disposal, must be stored in a white container that holds a mercury suppressant and staff must not be exposed to the material unnecessarily
  • Work with a waste management company which understands your needs and can give advice, as well as ensuring you are fully compliant with all regulations for the safe storage, packaging, transportation and disposal of amalgam
  • Read the 11-page section for dental surgeries in the Department of Health’s document HTM 07-01 – The Safe Management of Healthcare Waste

Phillip concluded: “Taking simple steps towards compliance and best practice will go a long way to ensuring the health of everyone at the practice is safe and secure. These don’t have to be difficult, expensive or time-consuming, but they do have to be consistent and managed in partnership with an expert waste management company who knows how to handle disposal of the material correctly.”

Grundon has a specialist mercury vacuum and detector which is capable of identifying and cleaning up even the tiniest traces of the liquid metal, reducing the time taken for a clean-up operation to just one hour.

To find out more, call 01628 501591, visit our clinical waste management page or email

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