Asbestos Recycling

Asbestos can be found in many homes and buildings due to its widespread use throughout the 20th century. For those looking to remodel or renovate their homes, asbestos removal and recycling can be deadly tasks. If asbestos is suspected, the best course of action is to assume it is present, leave it alone, and contact an asbestos professional.

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How to Recycle Asbestos

Asbestos exposure has been found to be so deadly that asbestos removal is an ongoing and widely researched problem.

While the usual way to get rid of asbestos has been by the “wrap and bury” method, researchers are looking for new ways to recycle asbestos.

Currently, the steps involved in asbestos recycling include:

  1. Remove the asbestos-containing material
  2. Wash the material in a hot base solution followed by acid to dissolve the fibers
  3. Melt and vitrify the solution to create glass or ceramic material (the extremely high temperatures used in this process destroy the asbestos fibers)
  4. Recycle the glass or ceramic

Asbestos Abatement vs Recycling

While recycling is oftentimes the best option whenever possible, when it comes to asbestos, the dangers can outweigh the benefits.

There is currently no ideal way to get rid of asbestos. Recycling may decrease the amount of asbestos that goes into landfills through the “wrap and bury” method. However, the technology to safely recycle is not yet perfected.

When faced with the possibility that a property you own may contain asbestos, it is best to contact certified asbestos professionals to assist you. The deadly health risks that have been proven to occur with exposure should be taken seriously when asbestos is suspected.

Asbestos Health Risks

Asbestos was used heavily from the 1930s–1980s because of its ability to protect against fire, water, sound, and chemicals. It was found in homes, cars, and was used extensively in all branches of the military.

During this time, the health risks of asbestos were not widely known.

Today, the devastating health risks of asbestos are known. Although asbestos is still not completely banned in the United States, it is highly restricted — and its use and removal are closely regulated.

This is because asbestos has been found to cause serious and even fatal health conditions.

Health issues linked to asbestos include: 

  • Mesothelioma: deadly cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure
  • Lung cancer: cancerous tumors in the lungs
  • Asbestosis: scarring over the lungs
  • Pleural plaques: thickening of membranes of the lungs
  • Pleural effusion: fluid build-up in the lungs

Because of the known health risks, asbestos removal poses a complex issue. If it is not done properly, exposure may cause home-owners and others to develop asbestos-related diseases.

To combat this issue, several federal agencies have implemented asbestos regulations.

Federal agencies with asbestos regulations include:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

Asbestos has a long and complicated history in U.S. homes, industries, and the military. The serious and even deadly health risks known to be caused by asbestos exposure make it a problem even today.

Asbestos Products

Asbestos has been called a “magic mineral” because of its wide-ranging uses. Because of this, not only was it common in the military, many industries, and in homes, there were also many products with asbestos used in everyday life.

Beginning in the 1950s, it could be found in thousands of products, including:

  • Shoes
  • Cigarette filters
  • Fake logs in gas fireplaces
  • Fake snow on movie sets
  • Crayons

Asbestos was used so commonly that millions of people were exposed. Peak production of asbestos was in the 1970s with bans on asbestos coming into play at the end of the decade.

Asbestos exposure is still a risk today, as it lurks in buildings and homes built before the 1970s. It was used so widely that health officials and regulatory agencies are still trying to figure out how to handle the asbestos that is already out there.

Buildings

Before bans on asbestos use began taking place, asbestos was commonly used in the construction of buildings and homes.

Because it is fireproof, asbestos was used in:

  • Ceilings
  • Drywall
  • Roofing shingles
  • Siding
  • Insulation
  • Cement
  • Floors
  • Paint
  • Heating equipment
  • Air-conditioning equipment

Vehicles

The heat resistant quality of asbestos made it a staple in vehicle parts that involve constant friction.

These vehicle parts include:

  • Brake pads and linings
  • Fume hoods
  • Heat seals
  • Hood liners
  • Clutch linings
  • Transmission plates

Military Ships

Shipbuilding in the U.S. Military relied on asbestos as a miracle material. It was considered perfect for insulation in steam pipes and fuel lines. Since asbestos is non-conductive, it was used to coat miles of electrical cables.

Asbestos was also found in:

  • Boilers, fireboxes, and liners
  • Pumps, valves, and hydraulics
  • Gaskets, packings, sealants, and adhesives
  • Spray-on, block, batt, and loose-fill insulation
  • Pipe and duct wrappings
  • Electrical wire coatings
  • Deck and floor tiles
  • Paint and wallboard
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Capacitors, meters, dielectric paper, and relays
  • Instruments and instrument paneling
  • Cement powder and mortar mix

Are Asbestos Products Banned?

Despite the health risks that asbestos exposure is known to cause, it is still not completely banned.

In 1989, the EPA made a final ruling on the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, banning most asbestos-containing products. The regulation was overturned in 1991 with dozens of products still manufactured today.

As recently as April of 2019, the EPA ruled that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return without the EPA first evaluating them.

Some products that are banned today include:

  • Adhesives, sealants, roof, and non-roof coatings
  • Arc chutes
  • Beater-add gaskets
  • Cement products
  • Extruded sealant tape and other tapes
  • Filler for acetylene cylinders
  • Friction materials
  • High-grade electrical paper
  • Millboard
  • Missile liner
  • Packings
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Roofing felt
  • Separators in fuel cells and batteries
  • Vinyl-asbestos floor tile
  • Woven products
  • Asbestos fireplace decorations
  • Asbestos filters for pharmaceutical manufacturing

In 1989, the EPA banned new uses of flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper.

How to Test for Asbestos

If you own a home or building, especially one built before the 1970s, it may be a good idea to have it tested for asbestos to see if you or your tenants could be at risk for asbestos exposure. Remember, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Some reasons to consider getting your property tested include:

  • If you are considering a do-it-yourself remodeling project
  • If a natural or manmade disaster may have disturbed the building’s structure
  • You detect the presence of crumbled, worn, or broken asbestos-containing materials

Checking for asbestos can sound overwhelming. However, there are steps you can take and professionals you can hire to make this important task easier.

Some first steps may be:

  1. Find out the year the structure was built
  2. Look around to see if there are signs of disturbed construction materials
  3. Decide if you’d like to get the structure tested

If you decide to get a structure inspected for asbestos, the EPA suggests hiring a trained and accredited asbestos professional.

There are generally two types of asbestos professionals:

  • Asbestos Inspectors: Asbestos inspectors can inspect a home or building to assess asbestos likelihood, take samples, and advise about corrections needed. If repair or asbestos removal is required, they can monitor to ensure corrective action was taken.
  • Asbestos Contractors: Asbestos contractors can make repairs or handle asbestos removal. Contractors must follow proper asbestos removal regulations that inspectors can oversee.

One of the most important things to do if you suspect the presence of asbestos is to leave the area alone and treat it as if it does contain asbestos.

Asbestos that is not disturbed or damaged is unlikely to cause health problems. When it is disturbed, asbestos-containing materials may release fibers causing risky or even deadly asbestos exposure.

Signs of wear or damage, even water damage, can be a possible threat. If you suspect you may have asbestos in a residence that you own, testing by a professional is your best option.

At-Home Test Kits

There are at-home testing kits that allow you to take a sample and send it to a lab to test for asbestos. However, the EPA recommends using an accredited professional.

The main reason for this is that most people untrained in asbestos inspection can’t always detect its presence. Additionally, a trained professional knows how to test areas without disturbing asbestos, which could worsen contamination of the air.

Asbestos Abatement

Abatement is the removal of asbestos. There are strict asbestos removal laws in place to protect people from its harmful effects. Once asbestos is removed, disposal is just as important.

Asbestos Abatement Costs

Costs for asbestos abatement can vary greatly depending upon the size of the project. The national average is about $2,000 but extensive removal and disposal can cost anywhere between $15,000 – $30,000. 

It is recommended that asbestos abatement be done by an EPA-licensed abatement specialist, due to the serious health risks of handling asbestos-containing materials. Hiring an asbestos abatement specialist is often the best course of action.

Some tips to find a professional who can help you with proper asbestos removal include:

  • Make sure there is no conflict of interest. The removal professional should not be connected with the same company used to assess the presence of asbestos.
  • Require that the professional provide proof of federal- or state-approved training and accreditation.
  • Research the professional’s past performance and ask if there are any safety violations or legal actions with the local air pollution control board, the local agency that oversees worker safety, or the Better Business Bureau.

Additionally, asbestos abatement is divided into classes, depending on the kind of work and hazard involved.

Characteristics of each class include:

  • Class I: Class I is potentially the most hazardous type of asbestos removal. It can include jobs removing thermal insulation systems or surfacing material, such as decorative plaster on ceilings and walls.
  • Class II: Class II involves the removal of other asbestos-related materials not included in Class I, such as flooring, ceiling tiles, siding, and roofing.
  • Class III: Class III work includes making repairs in places where it can be assumed that asbestos-containing materials have been disturbed.

Abatement begins with a certified asbestos inspector who takes samples of suspected asbestos. The samples are analyzed at a laboratory to determine the extent of the problem.

Asbestos removal can be complicated depending upon site preparations, including completely sealing off portions of the home or building.

However, with strict government regulations — and, more importantly, health risks — proper removal of asbestos and asbestos products is critical.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: October 2, 2019

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