Many old homes and buildings contain asbestos, a known carcinogen that is proven to cause life-threatening diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The owners of these older properties often abate asbestos because they want to remove the health hazard. (If asbestos is discovered on a property, it is usually mandated to be removed.)
Asbestos abatement also becomes a necessity for developers who want to reclaim properties with a significant number of old or condemned asbestos-containing buildings.
However, there mere disposal of asbestos waste can be a costly and hazardous affair in itself. It can pose a danger to the environment, and there are only a few authorized dump sites that follow EPA guidelines. These sites are quickly filling up.
Because of these concerns, green-minded individuals and companies may look into safer methods of abatement including more effective fiber control of asbestos waste and recycling methods.
The disposal of asbestos waste is heavily regulated and often involves bagging the asbestos-containing material (ACMs) and burying it in a landfill. This creates potentially environmentally hazardous situations which companies may be liable for. Instead of dumping material in a landfill, companies may choose to recycle the material.
Asbestos fibers are destroyed in a process called vitrification. High output Joule heated melters provided by the commercial glass industry can melt large volumes of waste and turn it into a durable glass. The resulting glass can be used in other applications such as glassphalt (glass mixed into asphalt for roads), roofing shingles and mixed into concrete. It can even be used in smoke detectors.
Vitrification also produces a significantly lower waste volume than other methods of disposal by up to 97%. The process is also efficient and cost effective.
The process was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and was implemented in the Savannah River Site (SRS) and West Valley Nuclear Services (WVNS).
Other DOE sites that perform vitrification are:
- Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in Tennessee;
- Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico;
- Rocky Flats (RF) in Colorado;
- Fernald Environmental Management Project (FEMP) in Ohio; and
- Hanford Waste Vitrification Project (HWVP) in Washington state.
Making Safer Chemical Choices
In addition to recycling, asbestos abatement can be green by using more environmentally friendly chemicals and cleaners in the abatement process. A common abatement activity is the removal of asbestos containing floor tiles.
There are several products that are now made non-flammable, non-carcinogenic, without chlorine and without ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. Some of these products are available in vegetable-based formulas. Biodegradable abatement hair and body shampoos are also available.
By making a few smarter choices, even asbestos waste disposal can be made greener.
Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in going green.
Jantzen, C. M. et al. (2000). Savannah river site waste vitrification projects initiated throughout the United States: Disposal and recycle options. Retrieved from http://sti.srs.gov/fulltext/ms2000105/ms2000105.pdf
Jantzen, C. M. (2000). How to recycle asbestos containing materials (ACM). Retrieved from http://www.osti.gov/bridge/purl.cover.jsp?purl=/753909-hXpCJf/native/