A New–And Possibly Cheaper–Way To Deal With Asbestos

Those who have spent any time at all reading the content here at Asbestos.net understand that dealing with asbestos waste and contamination is highly complex, highly regulated, extremely hazardous–and very expensive. In order to be certified, those who undertake this unpleasant but necessary task must undergo many hours of training, wear specific protective gear, and follow what often seem like rigid procedures.

In addition, there is often authorization required as well as paperwork and reports to be filed–sometimes well in advance of the actual work to be performed. Moreover, disposal of asbestos containing waste can be problematic; only certain landfill sites are permitted to accept such toxic materials, although none are legally obliged to do so, and the price is often steep. The alternative–to seal it up, or “encapsulate” asbestos materials–can be effective, but it involves the use of special resins that are also expensive and difficult to deal with. A team of Japanese scientists have come up with a third option: melt it away. The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Asbestos minerals are, after all, a form of stone, similar to shale and other metamorphic rocks.

Asbestiform minerals are created in part as the result of volcanic activity–which creates magma, or melted rock. Asbestos has been a serious problem in Japan for many years, where laws to ban the substance have only recently been enacted. Regular readers may recall that recently, we brought you a story about amphibole asbestos that was overlooked by inspectors and continues to pose a serious health threat in many Tokyo public buildings. Asbestos is also a major problem in many subway stations in nearby Seoul, South Korea.

The solution developed by scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology may be the least expensive and most efficient solution. The new device uses powerful infrared rays that melt asbestos on concrete walls within a few seconds. Once melted, the asbestos cools into a harmless solid, similar to the way magma turns into glass-like obsidian. Admittedly, this method has a few drawbacks. While heat from the infrared laser doesn’t harm concrete, it will make short work of sheetrock and wood (the effects on iron and lead pipe were not reported). It may, however, simplify the disposal of friable asbestos waste in the future.