The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority over matters concerning hazardous waste disposal. But what exactly is hazardous waste in the dental industry? If dentists still use analog x-ray machines, then x-ray fixer is high on the list.

A Look at Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is a broad category of waste that is handled very differently than any other type of waste. Hazardous waste is defined as “… a waste with properties that make it potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. The universe of hazardous wastes is large and diverse. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, or contained gases.”

According to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), hazardous waste includes wastes that are ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and acidic and caustic, among other things. Given that hazardous waste is harmful in several ways, generators need to dispose of it differently than other waste.

Most hazardous wastes may not be “land disposed” unless they meet “treatment standards” set by the EPA’s Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program.  It is the responsibility of the generator to ensure that any waste that is to be land disposed is either treated to reduce hazardous components to a level approved by the EPA, or by using a special, approved technology.

Why Is X-ray Fixer Hazardous Waste?

X-ray fixer, or x-ray fixer solution neutralizes any developer remaining on the film, removes undeveloped silver halides, and hardens the emulsion. What makes it dangerous is its chemical makeup: it contains high concentrations of silver, typically 3,000 to 8,000 mg/l of silver. Because of this silver content, used x-ray fixer must be managed as a hazardous waste. Used fixer cannot be poured down the drain or disposed of as regular solid waste.

Hazardous waste generators must follow strict protocol before disposing of x-ray fixer waste, which includes tracking the volume of hazardous materials produced in a month, using proper forms and reports for disposing of x-ray fixer, and handling toxic waste and determining if it can be recycled, treated, or disposed of. In this case, x-ray fixer may not be “land disposed.”  It is the responsibility of the generator — in this case, dental offices — to ensure that dental fixer is disposed of in a compliant and safe way.

According to the HERC Center, dental offices can dispose of dental fixer by one of three ways:

  • Dispose of it off-site as a hazardous waste
  • Pay someone who operates a silver recovery unit to take the fixer, or
  • Use a silver recovery unit on-site.

If you’re a dental office that still relies on analog x-rays in your practice and need assistance with safely disposing of x-ray fixer and other x-ray waste, contact Red Bags for the most up-to-date disposal solutions.

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