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Sunday, 10 May 2015 22:00

Anterior Quest eyes expansion as feds weigh dental waste regs

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Anterior Quest’s products remove mercury and other metals from wastewater collected from dentist offices. Anterior Quest’s products remove mercury and other metals from wastewater collected from dentist offices. COURTESY PHOTO

A West Michigan company plans to capitalize on pending federal regulations of dental waste to drive sales outside of its current Midwest market.

Jenison-based Anterior Quest LLC designs and produces containment and recycling systems to remove mercury and other harmful materials from dental wastewater before it reenters the public water treatment system.

Although 14 states — including Michigan — and numerous municipalities currently have regulations governing the treatment of dental wastewater with amalgam separation units, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to extend that to a national level under the

Clean Water Act with the newly proposed Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Dental Category.

The reason: The material dentists use to fill cavities, called amalgam, is a mix of mercury and other metals. While the other metals render the mercury in the amalgam relatively harmless to humans, when the fillings are installed or removed, that mercury can go untreated into water treatment system.

“One gram of mercury is enough to pollute up to 20 acres of lake by making the surrounding fish unsafe to eat,” said Nathan Koster, director of sales and marketing at Anterior Quest. “It’s our understanding that with the new regulations that are coming on a federal level they’re going to be implementing our technology into the law because they see it as the future moving forward.”

Public comment on the proposed regulation ended in February and the EPA plans to publish the final ruling in June 2016, said Robert Daguillard, press officer at the EPA.

Publicly-owned water treatment facilities have a 90-percent efficiency rate when it comes to removing amalgam from wastewater, meaning that some of the material is still discharged into surface water, according to the EPA, which notes there are alternatives for amalgam fillings including resin composites, porcelain and others.

The pending regulation would require dentist offices that use amalgam to fill cavities or that remove amalgam fillings to install the “best available technology” to capture mercury from dental wastewater. The regulation notes that the best technology currently available is amalgam separation.

The EPA estimates that the proposed ruling would annually prevent approximately 4.4 tons of mercury and 4.4 tons of other metals from entering the public water treatment network, which is not equipped to handle that level of mercury.

While other amalgam separation technology exists, Anterior Quest differentiates itself by offering a fully contained system and recycling center to process out the mercury, Koster said. Anterior Quest currently maintains 300 dental clients in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio that have incorporated the company’s technology of amalgam separation.

The company has also worked with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to endorse its technology on the national level, Koster said.

While the company recently met with department leaders to discuss the technology, the MDEQ does not have authority over that portion of the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, said Brad Wurfel, communications director at the MDEQ.

“Department leaders were impressed with what this company is committed to — protecting surface water,” Wurfel said in an email to MiBiz. “We support Anterior Quest’s efforts as a Michigan company and hope to see them continue to develop and grow in the years to come.”

RECYCLING PROCESS

To keep the size of its containers manageable for dentist offices, Anterior Quest collects wastewater from its customers every two months and transports it to its recycling center in Allendale.

While most of the company’s customers average 20 gallons of wastewater during that time, some larger institutions can capture as much as 200 gallons before the company collects the material, Koster said.

When the water arrives at the recycling facility, it’s collected in large tanks and press filtered to remove all of the organic solids from the water, Koster said.

The wastewater then travels through another system of tanks to scrub the water of harmful chemicals including cadmium, bromium and arsenic. It’s also treated with chemicals to neutralize any bacteria in the water.

At that point, the water is considered refined, but it still contains high levels of mercury — which the company removes through a final proprietary process. Anterior Quest sends the remaining “mercury cake” to a government-operated processing facility in Wisconsin for disposal, Koster said.

Anterior Quest’s containment units and processing equipment are manufactured by Hudsonville-based Premier Metal Products LLC.

Before the treated water is released back into the water system, it’s tested at an independent lab to certify it contains less than 200 parts per trillion of mercury. The water finishes the process with mercury levels of 0.45 parts per trillion, Koster said.

“The water we’re producing is actually cleaner than the drinking water in the system because it is so incredibly sterile,” he said.

LEGISLATED GROWTH

A wave of state regulations mirroring the proposed EPA ruling largely drove Anterior Quest’s first round of growth.

In 2009, Michigan lawmakers passed Public Act 503, which required offices that used or removed amalgam to implement separation units with an efficiency rating of 95 percent or higher, setting a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013.

Koster said the regulatory change was one of the primary factors that led Anterior Quest’s ownership in 2011 to acquire the company from the product’s original inventor, Steve Luke.

Since taking over the company, the new owners have made improvements to the system’s efficiency and made it more compact to better fit in dentist offices, Koster said. Those changes — combined with the state regulations — led to a significant uptick in the company’s business, he added.

When the current ownership took over the company it had 22 clients, Koster said. By comparison, the company added 100 new clients in 2014 alone.

Luke originally developed the technology used by Anterior Quest a decade ago and remains a minority stakeholder in the business, Koster said.

Going forward, Anterior Quest will consider a franchise model in which its units — which were purposefully engineered to be compact and portable — would be served by centralized recycling hubs around the country, Koster said. In the meantime, the company plans to keep its operations nimble. It currently employs nine people.

“Right now, we run it lean where many of us wear multiple hats. It’s the nature of small business that way,” Koster said. “(But) the nature of the beast is as things get bigger, we’ll need more people to move forward.”

Read 2395 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 May 2015 21:03
John Wiegand

Staff writer

[email protected]

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