Sources of Lead Waste in Dental Offices
Dental offices generate lead wastes, such as lead aprons, shields, foils, batteries, and computers. Lead foils are used in the wrapping that shields x-ray film, and lead aprons and shields are used during patient x-rays for radiation protection. Single use and rechargeable batteries contain lead and other toxic metals, as do many electronic components, such as computers, computer screens and analytical equipment. The following informational sheet offers suggestions on managing and disposing these hazardous wastes.
Health Effects from Lead Exposure
Although highly toxic when taken internally in any of its forms, symptoms of lead exposure usually occur after it has accumulated in the body over a period of time. Symptoms of lead poisoning are anemia, weakness, constipation, colic, palsy, and often paralysis of the wrists and ankles. Children are especially at risk from lead, even at levels once thought safe. Ingestion of elevated levels of lead can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, impaired hearing and impaired balance. At levels once thought safe in adults, lead is now known to increase blood pressure.
Proper Management of Lead Waste from Dental Offices
Lead Aprons, Shields and Foils
Lead aprons, shields, foils, and electronics are considered hazardous waste unless they are recycled for their scrap metal content. If the material is recycled, it must go to a licensed recycling facility and records or receipts of such shipment must be kept. Companies that recycle amalgam or fixer may also accept lead waste. Dental offices should check to see if damaged or worn out lead aprons can be returned to their original manufacturer. Hazardous waste cannot be disposed as municipal solid waste (trash).
Do not put the lead foil that shields x-ray film, protective lead shields, lead aprons, or bitewings into the trash or into biohazard bags. The lead content of these makes them hazardous waste.
Eastman Kodak (800-933-8031) coordinates a recycling program for dentists for lead foils. For less than $20, which includes shipping and handling, Eastman Kodak will send a small container that will hold approximately one year’s supply of disposed lead foils. When the containers are full, an express carrier returns the foil to the company for recycling. Eastman Kodak, or your film supplier, will provide lead foil recycling information. This does not imply endorsement from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
Batteries are found in electronic devices in offices and homes, and many of these batteries must be managed as "universal wastes" because of their toxic or reactive properties. To promote the recycling and proper management of waste batteries, they have been included in the New Hampshire Universal Waste Rules, which became effective October 13, 2001. "Universal wastes" are wastes that meet the definition of hazardous waste in the NH Hazardous Waste Rules, but which during accumulation and transport pose a relatively low risk compared to other hazardous wastes. Universal waste batteries include nickel-cadmium, small sealed lead acid, and lithium batteries. DES has developed two fact sheets for the proper management and disposal/recycling options for batteries.
Remember to store all spent lead-acid batteries on an acid-resistant surface, under cover, away from flammable liquids, ignition sources, and drains. Recycle all types of batteries.
Cathode Ray Tubes
Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are the video units found in televisions and computer monitors. CRTs can contain five to eight pounds of lead. CRTs generated from businesses fall within the state’s Universal Waste Rule. Therefore, CRTs are considered a universal waste and will need to be recycled, donated, or sent to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Visit the DES web site for more information on computer and electronic recycling.
For More Information
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
Pollution Prevention Program
- New Hampshire Dental Society
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