asbestos1.jpg Asbestos is a naturally-occurring material that was used in homes and offices for centuries. But do not let the “naturally occurring” part fool you: Asbestos is extremely dangerous. It is a carcinogen that can cause serious illness and death if not handled correctly. I was surprised to learn there is a way to recycle asbestos. But not every community will have a facility that can take it and recycle it. In fact, not every community will have a place that can take it at all, much less recycle it. If you have asbestos in your home, your first step should not be to rush out and find a recycler. Your first step should be to find a company that can safely remove your asbestos for you, then ask them if they plan to recycle it or throw it away. Asbestos is simply too dangerous for the average homeowner to handle it at all. If you are curious about how asbestos gets recycled, we have some details. If you are wondering where to find an asbestos removal company, we can help you with that too.

What is asbestos? What is its history?

Asbestos exists on every continent and has been used since the Stone Age. There are six main types of asbestos: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite. All have very beneficial properties when included in walls, insulation and floors. Asbestos naturally resists heat and fire, will not react with chemicals and is quite strong. It also has some soundproofing qualities. Between the 1940s and the early 1970s, asbestos was commonly used in items like ceiling tiles, flooring tiles and automotive parts. It was also mixed in with materials like cement compounds, asphalt for roads and the “popcorn” used on ceilings in homes. The military mined asbestos extensively while searching for other raw materials for weapons and vehicles. The problem with asbestos is that it can cause fatal illnesses when it is inhaled. Even ancient people observed that slaves who mined asbestos often developed “sickness of the lungs.” The microscopic fibers that make up asbestos are easily inhaled and can get lodged in people’s respiratory systems. They can cause lung cancer or a rare type of cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos can also lead to a serious chronic lung condition known as asbestosis. The material is no longer mined or used in the United States (although you will still find it going into new construction projects in poor nations). However, there is still plenty of it out there. People remodeling old buildings are bound to find asbestos somewhere because it was so widely used.

How asbestos gets recycled

The website Ecolife explains that asbestos can be heated to very high temperatures and turned into silicate glass. The material is completely inert and will not cause cancer. Silicate glass can be used to create ceramic and stoneware products. Hard to believe a product that could give you cancer in one form could be completely safe to eat off in another, but it seems to be a miracle of modern science. To determine if your local solid waste district can accept asbestos for recycling, start with your local household hazardous waste center. They are responsible for handling dangerous items such as asbestos, so they should have information on what you should do with it. You may be able to take it to them for recycling, or they may recommend taking it to a special asbestos landfill. The reality is that you should not have to find an asbestos recycling center yourself because you should not attempt to remove it yourself. In many states it is illegal to remove it yourself because you risk harming yourself and other people. The person you hire to remove your asbestos should have at least one safe place they can take it for disposal.

How to identify and safely work with asbestos

You may have asbestos in your home and not even realize it. Before you start on any remodeling project, it is worth reviewing these resources from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine if you might have asbestos in your home. If you have any doubt about whether something contains asbestos, it is smart to leave it alone and hire a professional to check it out. They will do an abatement, where they remove a very small part of your ceiling/floor/wall/etc. under safe conditions and test it. After that, they can advise you about the best course of action. Asbestos removal companies will completely enclose any areas with asbestos and put on respirators before they remove the affected pieces. Then they will transport them to a recycling facility or a waste disposal facility. The EPA maintains a list of licensed asbestos removal companies and testing facilities. Your state environmental protection agency may have a list as well. You can also check with a general contractor, your city’s building department or friend in the construction field to see if they have any recommendations. Keep in mind that asbestos is most dangerous if it is inhaled. If you happen upon asbestos, disturb it as little as possible. Do not breathe in any of the dust in the area, and keep pets and children away from it. You might consider wetting it down slightly so the fibers have a harder time becoming airborne. Call a professional to test and remove it.