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News | April 22, 2019

Care of the Environment matches Environment of Care norm at Naval Hospital Bremerton

By Douglas Stutz Naval Hospital Bremerton

Naval Hospital Bremerton’s (NHB) environment of care is also equally matched by its care of the environment.

NHB’s Facilities Management environment division took the opportunity to showcase on Earth Day, April 22, 2019, that the command’s commitment to environmental stewardship is a responsibility they take beyond the established norm.

According to Ramon Calantas, NHB environmental protection specialist, NHB dental clinics have been a model of conservation consistency by keeping toxic metals from dental wastewater out of Puget Sound for the past 15 years by using amalgam separators.

“All of our clinics and main hospital are the most ecological advanced and cleanest in Navy Medicine,” said Calantas.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established guidelines for reducing discharging of mercury present in amalgam - which are alloys of mercury and other metals – used for fillings from dental clinics. Requirements were put into place July 14, 2017, for all clinics to use amalgam separators to achieve at least 95 percent removal efficiency with a compliance date of July 20, 2020. NHB has not only been using the separators well before they were mandated, but is also exceeding the recommended efficiency rate by building redundancy into the system to safeguard the environment.

“The management of all dental waste, including toxic metals, from all of our dental clinics meets or exceeds the 95 percent mark established by the EPA. NHB peaks at above the 99th percentile. When it comes to caring for our environment, exceeding what’s expected of us is really what we do,” Calantas said.

Dental Recycling North America (DRNA) has also acknowledged NHB’s efforts using advanced environmental technology in managing toxic metals and dental wastewater. NHB has kept 68 pounds of toxic mercury out of the environment.

“Using the amalgam separators to remove more than 99 percent of the toxic metals and recycling the captured toxic metals is the most environmentally responsible and efficient manner to manage our dental wastewater.” stated Calantas.

There are dangerous waste products in dental offices from dental procedures, dental equipment and various cleaning solutions. The most common types of dangerous waste comes from unused x-ray developer, used x-ray fixer, lead, unused pharmaceuticals, fluorescent bulbs, and cleaning and disinfecting solutions. There’s also amalgam capsules, scrap amalgam teeth with amalgam, and mercury in that amalgam waste. All are collected for recycling, then shipped for processing.

The amalgam separators that NHB has in place in all of its dental clinics are a practical, affordable, and readily available technology for capturing the mercury and other metals before they are discharged into sewers that drain to publicly owned treatment works. 

Even the amalgam separators themselves are salvaged.

“We recycle those products. They’re not thrown away. The products used in handling the medical waste are (also) kept out of a landfill,” commented Calantas.

NHB has dental clinics at the main hospital and all branch health clinics located on Naval Base Bangor, Naval Station Everett and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. They collectively took care of approximately 15,000 patients last year, using the most advanced wastewater filtration technology available. 

“This is also a best practice with our environmental work leading to energy efficiency. As we transition (in the changes coming to Navy Medicine, with administrative and management of a military treatment facility like NHB being handled by the Defense Health Agency under DoD guidelines by Congressional mandate) a lot will already be in place,” said Lt. Erwin Rodriguez.

“Our efforts speak a lot about how much we value where we live and where we work. Our environment division team has always practiced sound conservation policies in all they do,” commented Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman NHB commanding officer, citing a sports analogy to describe the efforts of keeping dental product waste out of local water supplies.

“You [the environment division] are the unsung heroes – like offensive lineman in football. If the offensive line blocks well all game and does their job to protect the quarterback, then no one hears any of their names called. But any time they fail or are penalized, you can bet they get singled out. In this context, if there is no spillage of dental waste, then we are doing what we are supposed to do as good stewards of our environment. You all do it flawlessly under the radar every day, and for that – we thank you,” Bitterman remarked.

“If we’re invisible, then we’re doing our jobs,” added Rodriguez.

Which explains why they were seen only on Earth Day.