As lawmakers take up two bills that would ban the use of mercury in dental fillings, the state has yet to hear from nearly one-third of Maine’s dentists about their compliance with another mercury law.

Effective Dec. 31, 2004, dentists were required to install amalgam separator systems in their wastewater lines.

Dental amalgam consists of at least 50 percent mercury, along with parts of silver, copper and tin.

Of 609 licensed dentists, 177 haven’t provided paperwork as of Wednesday proving that they’ve installed the separators, which are designed to capture waste mercury before it reaches sewer lines.

Another four dentists admitted noncompliance, said Sterling V. Pierce II, senior environmental engineer with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality.

On Friday – Earth Day – the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee will hold a work session on L.D. 1327 and L.D. 1338.

Sponsored by Sens. John Martin, D-Aroostook, and Dennis Damon, D-Hancock, each would ban the use of mercury in fillings by 2008.

Damon’s bill also contains other provisions regarding dental insurance coverage and some environmental issues.

Pierce said the DEP hasn’t taken a stand on the bills, but is closely monitoring their progress.

He attended an earlier hearing on them and intends to attend Friday’s work session.

He said Wednesday that while the DEP hasn’t heard from 177 of the state’s dentists with respect to their meeting the mercury separator law, he suspects that most of those dentists have complied.

So does Dr. Maurice Convey. The Norway dentist is the president-elect of the Maine Dental Association.

Convey said he installed a mercury separator in his practice last November, but only got around to telling the state that it was in place “just two weeks ago.”

Convey said his office computer wasn’t working right, and that the only way he could get the needed paperwork to send to the DEP was by downloading it from a state Web site.

Overall, Convey claimed Maine’s dentists have “a 99.8 percent compliance rate” with the law.

Pierce said his office has determined that 234 dental facilities that represent 328 practicing dentists are in compliance.

And he said some of the 177 – orthodontists, oral surgeons and other specialists – are exempted from the separator statute.

“We have found four dentists to date that were required to have a separator and did not have one,” Pierce said. “We are in the process of drafting ‘letters of warning’ that will be sent to these individuals.”

The next step, Pierce said, for those dentists or others not complying with the requirement, would be for the state to send out a notice of violation.

“Then, if necessary, we could go to full-blown enforcement,” he said.

That would bring in the attorney general’s office and require negotiations leading to consent agreements.

If that failed, the department could bring lawsuits through the state’s Superior Courts.

Dentists were reminded of the need for the separators last summer via a mailing from the DEP, Pierce said.

The Maine Dental Association has also reminded its members on several occasions of the need to install them.

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