How to Safely Dispose of Residential Asbestos Waste

By Stan G. in News

Asbestos exposure does not provide an immediate threat in the same way as live electrical lines or shaky structures can. It is also less apparent than more major health hazards such as black mold. Asbestos fibers are tiny and may move through the air or in dust clouds, so you might be exposed and not realize it.

Dealing with asbestos is critical at every step, from working to remove it to safely disposing of it, and knowing how to protect yourself against asbestos exposure may help you prevent health issues later in life. Because asbestos is an airborne hazard, the laws and regulations governing its proper handling and packing are found in federal and state air quality standards. All asbestos waste generated during the remodeling project must be wetted prior to any removal efforts.

In addition to using proper removal procedures, homeowners should never handle asbestos waste without wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment, and this should be removed and bagged up once the waste has been properly dealt with. All asbestos waste should be double-bagged and sealed in leak-proof containers while still wet, then properly labeled and transported to certified landfills with particular securing standards for keeping waste secure and fibers from leaking into the air.

Asbestos in Your Home - Where Is It and How to Deal With It

Asbestos is often found in older wall and ceiling insulation in houses constructed between the 1940s and the 1980s. Vinyl products, such as flooring, vinyl tiles, vinyl adhesive, linoleum, and wallpaper, may all contain asbestos. Unless damaged or disturbed, these materials are usually regarded as safe.

Asbestos may be present in surface material that has been sprayed or trowelled onto wall and ceiling surfaces. It shouldn't be dangerous if the material is strong and firmly attached and it doesn't generate powder or dust under hand pressure.

If you believe asbestos may be in your home, contact a professional with special training and experience in the asbestos field and ask to have the material assessed, repaired, or removed.

Waste Containing More Than 1% Asbestos Is Classed as Hazardous Waste

Waste containing asbestos is considered hazardous if it contains more than 1% of the mineral and is either a powder/dust or is easily crumbled or powdered by hand and must be handled, transported, and disposed of in accordance with the hazardous waste legislation and regulations.

Friable asbestos-containing material may look as follows:

  • fluffy - applied by spraying
  • irregular - applied by spraying
  • dense, textured, firm - applied by trowelling

If non-friable asbestos wastes become friable during handling or transportation, the waste becomes hazardous waste. Asbestos that is firmly bound in a binder material/matrix so that it is not easily crumbled by hand is non-friable and is not considered hazardous waste unless the material is abraded, sanded or sawed.

Asbestos Waste Handling and Disposal

Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was utilized in the building of countless homes. While those products are considered safe while in good condition, they may release harmful asbestos fibers into the air if they are torn, damaged, burnt, blown, or washed away and form part of a debris pile. Therefore, we strongly recommend that:

  • before disturbing debris that is suspected of containing asbestos, an asbestos survey be conducted by a licensed asbestos consultant
  • asbestos-containing debris be removed by a qualified asbestos contractor

If you decide to tackle asbestos removal as a do-it-yourself job, you must take all safety measures seriously and strictly adhere to them. In addition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many other state agencies have publications available that explain the authorized techniques for containing asbestos, protecting yourself and your property from contamination, and properly disposing of asbestos.

The legislation states that throughout the removal, transportation, and disposal of asbestos-containing material, "no visible emissions" of dust are permitted. All waste and material used in the cleanup must be disposed of as asbestos waste, including disposable cloths, filters, equipment, and building materials.

You must transport the asbestos-containing waste in closed containers that are packed in such a way that it does not tip, spill, or break. At the very least, asbestos waste must be contained and transported following these guidelines:

  • in non-returnable, sealed, leak-tight containers (e.g., plastic bags with a minimum thickness of 6 mil, cartons, drums, or cans) that prevent fibers from escaping;
  • moisten the waste to prevent fibers from blowing around in case the container is broken, or if wastes are too bulky to enclose in sealed containers, the wastes must be wetted to prevent blowing dust;
  • if you are directly placing wrapped and sealed waste in trailers or drop-boxes, a tarp should be used to protect the container once it is lined with plastic sheeting;
  • a warning label must be attached to the exterior of each asbestos package or container. This label must be visible and have clear writing spelling out the following warning: "Contains Asbestos Fibers";
  • do not mix different hazardous wastes in the same container.

More Tips to Minimize Asbestos Exposure

  • Use only NIOSH-approved respirators that are properly fitted. Do not use basic paper or fiber dusk masks, handkerchiefs, or other low-quality air respirators, as they will offer little or no protection against asbestos fibers.
  • Cover asbestos-related debris to minimize dust, and always wear additional protective gear during removal, such as boots, coveralls, and gloves.
  • Be sure to thoroughly shower once you have completed debris removal to remove any dust and fibers that could become airborne.

Do Not Dispose of Asbestos-Containing Items in Your Household Garbage

Asbestos-containing waste should only be disposed of at an authorized landfill site that is equipped to handle the asbestos waste. If asbestos-containing waste materials are listed in their permit, municipal solid waste landfills and construction and demolition landfills may accept them. Friable asbestos and non-friable asbestos that have been damaged to the point of being friable may only be disposed of in landfills that have been specifically authorized to handle these wastes. Before transporting the waste for disposal, contact the landfill operator for approval.

Why Should I Test Products in My Home for Asbestos?

It is often impossible to tell whether asbestos is embedded in a material, as the fibers are too small to be observed with the naked eye. Exposure to asbestos is responsible for serious respiratory conditions, so thorough testing is required to ensure your home is asbestos-free.