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Mercury is a major component of dental amalgam; the material used by dentists to fill irregular cavities in teeth. Mercury is highly toxic to both humans and animals and has been recognised as a potential health hazard to dental personnel for many years.
Liquid at room temperature, mercury is highly suitable to form alloys with other metals without the need for heating. This also means it is easily vaporised at room temperature, with inhalation through the lungs the primary route of exposure. Exposure can also occur through direct skin contact with mercury, mercury-containing compounds or contaminated equipment.
Mercury vapour is colourless, odourless and tasteless so exposure will go relatively undetected. The mercury vapour passes through the lungs into the blood and travels around the body, becoming absorbed into the organs. Exposure to mercury vapour can result in a number of illnesses such as damage to the central nervous system and neurological disorders.
The hazard of exposure to mercury vapour has been recognised by the World Health Organisation who have put an occupational exposure limit of 50 ug/m3. The Health and Safety Executive have halved that figure for the UK to 25 ug/m3. The value given is time-weighted and thus relates to the total exposure over an eight-hour working period.
Initial Medical provide a mercury spillage kit to facilitate dental personnel in dealing with mercury spills in a safe and effective manner.
Our helpful guide to the correct waste colour coding shows the various disposal methods depending on the type of waste
Find out more about the extensive legislation controlling the handling, collection and disposal of clinical waste
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