San Francisco Department of the Environment

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Dental Office Products & Practices

Dental offices use many chemicals in their daily operations. These chemicals can successfully be managed so as to promote employee safety, patient health and environmental protection.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment and the Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), in conjunction with the San Francisco Dental Society, launched the Dental Mercury Reduction Program to regulate pollution caused by dental practices and to provide information on safer alternatives to chemicals commonly used in dental offices.

Managing dental office chemicals makes it easy to use alternative products and practices instead of traditional ones. The program covers instrument sterilizerssurface disinfectantsinstrument cleaners, X-ray chemicals and vacuum system cleaners (PDFs).

Everyday dentists, hygienists and other dental staff may come into daily contact with chemicals from x-ray developers, ultrasonic bath cleaners, glutaraldehyde, disinfectants, and more.  Reducing exposure to these chemicals can help make a dental office safer and greener.

Download these factsheets to learn how to store, label and dispose of dental office waste:

Managing Dental Office Chemical Use
General Hazardous Waste Management
Universal Waste Management
Medical Waste Management


Hazardous Waste

Hazardous Material

Less Toxic Tip

Disposal Technique



Includes “scrap” amalgam; amalgam capsules (empty, leaking or unusable); contact amalgam (extracted teeth with silver fillings); amalgam pieces captured by vacuum pump filters and screens; sludge from separators; and, chair-side traps, vacuum pump filters, and screens. Learn why this is so important.


Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal* – Refers to Placed in a properly labeled container and disposed of through a licensed hazardous waste hauler or the City’s VSQG Program.

X-Ray Film


Switch to a digital x-ray

  • There are many companies that can reclaim silver from the film and the plastic for other products. Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

X-Ray Developer


  • Switch to a digital x-ray


  • When developer is used the hydroquinone is depleted. Completely used developer can be poured down the drain. Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

X-Ray Fixer


  • Using a silver recovery unit, up to ten gallons of fixer can be treated on site per month. Recovered silver can be sold to a metal reclaimer. Treated fixer must be non-hazardous and in compliance with local discharge limits before it can be poured down the drain. Contact SFPUC at (415) 695-7310 for more information.

Switch to a digital x-ray.

Place in a properly labeled container and dispose of through a licensed hazardous waste

X-Ray Cleaner

chromium compounds. Check package label or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any form of chromium, such as sodium dichromate.

Switch to digital x-ray. Choose a non-chromium cleaner or employ mechanical cleaning methods.

If cleaner is hazardous, place in a properly labeled container, Use Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

Lead Foils, Bite Wings, and Lead Aprons


Switch to a digital x-ray

Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

Chemical Sterilant

Also known as “chemiclave solutions.”


  • depends on the concentrations and ingredients. Check with vendor or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).


  • Switch to a steam autoclave or dry heat oven. (Do not use ethylene-oxide gas.) Use the minimum amount of sterilant necessary. Neutralize sterilant, if appropriate, with glycine. Use a sterilant containing less-hazardous active ingredients not subject to treatment regulations, such as quaternary ammonium compounds.

Medical facilities are allowed to neutralize sterilants with glutaraldehyde or ortho-phthaldehyde (OPA) onsite by adding glycine. Completely neutralized sterilant can be disposed of down the drain. Contact SFPUC at (415) 695-7310 for further guidance. If not neutralized, Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

Cleaning Solvents and Disinfectants:


  • Contain a variety of hazardous substances. Check with vendor or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
  • Use all of a cleaning product in a container, removing the need to dispose of it as hazardous waste. Never use bleach to clean vacuum lines. Bleach encourages the release of harmful mercury from amalgam. Instead, clean vacuum lines with non-bleach cleaner. Examples include: All-In-One, E-Vac, Evacuation Cleaner, EZ-Zyme, Gobble Plus, Green and Clean, MAXIEVAC, ProE-Vac, Purevac, Sani-Treet Plus, Stay-Clean, Super-Dent, Turbo Vac Line Flush, VacuCleanse, or VAC-U-EZ.

Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal


Universal Wastes

Includes mercury thermometers, fluorescent lamps, batteries, blood pressure gauges, etc.

Contain a variety of hazardous substances, often mercury

  • Reduce the use of products that qualify as universal wastes and use alternative products, when available (e.g., digital thermometers and rechargeable batteries).

Commercial Hazardous Waste Disposal

Medical Waste

Includes biohazardous waste (e.g. blood-soaked waste and human surgery specimens), sharps (e.g. needles and broken glass items), and pharmaceutical waste.

May be infectious or cause bodily harm. Unused pharmaceuticals are presumed hazardous, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Use all of a pharmaceutical, when feasible, removing the need to dispose of it as hazardous waste.

Disposal requirements vary with type and quantity of medical waste. In general, all medical waste must be disposed of through a certified medical waste hauler.

San Francisco Department of the Environment’s Achievements

  • 2003 - Hosted an Amalgam Separator Vendor Expo, in collaboration with SFPUC and the San Francisco Dental Society, to assist San Francisco dentists in making informed decisions when purchasing amalgam separators for their offices.
  • 2005 - Hosted a Dental Office Pollution Prevention Symposium to present successful program strategies and outreach material to jurisdictions starting up their own dental mercury pollution prevention programs.
  • 2011 - 600 of 601 dentist offices in San Francisco were in compliance, which represents 99.8% of all offices in San Francisco. 339 of the 520 dentists who chose the permit option to install an amalgam separator (65.2%) have been certified as having installed the equipment.
  • 100 offices received a total of $30,000 in financial assistance to install amalgam separators that cost anywhere between $250 to $1800, not including installation. Rebates were also given to dental offices that serve low-income, minority and other types of underserved populations.

Are you a Dentist?

Enroll in the Green Business Program and learn how to save on energy, water, and garbage costs as well as reducing your exposure to hazardous substances. In the meanwhile, you can download the Dental office Cheat Sheet to help you manage your chemicals and waste.

Related Content

Additional Resources

Amalgam best management practices
Maintaining amalgam separators
Amalgam waste guidelines from ADA   
Forums and Symposiums
Eco Dentistry Association


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