February 25, 2021.
Renovating is an exciting way to refresh one’s living or office space. Updating old fixtures and appliances, repainting, and sometimes even redoing the layout can have a huge impact on one’s quality of life. When renovating or remodeling, you’ll likely require junk removal, and it’s important to dispose of construction debris and old appliances responsibly. When it comes to disposing of hazardous construction materials like lead, asbestos, or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), this becomes paramount.
Many items were made using these hazardous materials, and their proper removal and disposal is essential to protect the health and safety of contractors, disposal facility workers, and community members alike. Hazardous materials can leach into groundwater and pollute the air, putting community members at risk. By practicing proper disposal methods, not only are workers protected, but the surrounding community is as well.
Remodeling the kitchen or simply updating old appliances is an opportunity to bring a fresh look and feel to one of the most active rooms in your home. Sleek stainless steel or carbon black can transform a space. When that old refrigerator and stove gets picked up at the curb, however, where does it go from there?
Too often, discarded appliances end up in landfills instead of being properly recycled. Not only does this leave metal, plastics, glass, and related materials that could otherwise be reused, some appliances can leak toxic substances. Refrigerators, for instance, can leak cooling agents like freon into the soil, where it could contaminate groundwater. Appliances with motors, such as washing machines, contain oil that could leak as well.
Well, it may seem as though this couldn’t impact you once the appliance is in the landfill, think again. Once these contaminants enter the groundwater they could easily affect a community’s drinking water supply. These toxic substances can cause a slew of health effects if consumed. Used appliance motor oil alone can cause damage to the liver, brain, immune system, and reproductive system.
The presence of PCBs in old appliance capacitors and hydraulic oil can cause serious health effects as well. Used in many industrial products for its high boiling point, non-flammability, chemical stability, and electrical insulating abilities—maintenance workers, electricians, and appliance technicians are the most often exposed.
The EPA recommends recycling old appliances at participating disposal facilities. It’s imperative that the fluids and other toxic substances be properly contained and discarded, which is only possible with the right equipment and procedures. Recycling facilities will have these abilities and the cost is nominal in comparison to the environmental impact. Once the facility has bled the appliances of any liquid hazards, it can move forward with the recycling process by dismantling the machines. Plastics, glass, and metals can all be recycled and processed for use in other items.
Lead was once used in many building products such as paints, solder, piping, and even window glazing. During the 20th century, lead was idolized for its impressive bonding capabilities and was added to these products for decades.
If your home was built before 1978 the chances are high that it contains lead-based paint. It wasn’t until 1978 that the federal government banned the use of lead-based paints by consumers. According to the EPA, a staggering 87% of homes contain lead-based paint if built before 1940. The percentage does go down as homes get newer, but lead in consumer products has only been banned for 40 years, leaving many people at risk.
Luckily for renters, it’s a requirement to release a lead paint test in the tenant agreement. For homeowners, though, one would have to have the materials tested themselves if that information wasn’t contained in the title abstract. Regardless of documentation, before undertaking any remodeling or renovation project, it’s important to have any suspect materials tested.
If you do have lead-contaminated materials, it’s best to have a professional remove the material and dispose of it. They will have the proper training, equipment, and procedures to deal with the lead-based products properly. Even if you think you have the ability to remove the materials safely, it will be difficult to properly transport and dispose of them.
Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) require careful handling. With the slightest disturbance, fibers can become airborne and easily be inhaled or ingested. When lodged in the linings of the lungs or abdomen, the fiber can cause serious health effects like mesothelioma and asbestosis. If asbestos is suspected to be present, it’s best to hire a professional to deal with any ACMs.
The mineral was a common additive for many construction materials throughout the 20th century. Its lightweight, heat resistance, and fire retardant property made it an excellent choice for building materials of all kinds. Asbestos was used as an additive by masons and finishers, too. Its superior bonding ability made it a viable choice to strengthen popcorn ceilings. Unfortunately, the use of ACMs in buildings constructed before the 1980s, when a partial ban was put in place, can make the demolition of older homes difficult and hazardous.
It’s important to have a professional remove ACMs because there is no way to do-it-yourself safely. Typically, homeowners don’t have the capabilities to create a negative pressure chamber with a HEPA filter or the proper personal protective equipment on hand to abate the ACMs without putting themselves or their families at risk. The ACMs then has to be double-bagged in a minimum of 6 mil plastic. This protects the community during transport and disposal facility workers.
Household Hazardous Waste
Another notable source of hazardous waste is the improper disposal of household products like batteries, electronics, cleaning supplies, and even used automotive fluids. When these are simply put in the trash, they can release harmful toxins into the soil and contaminate nearby water supplies.
It may seem extraneous to have to sort these items and bring them to the proper facility, but it can have huge impacts on the environment and the safety of local water supplies. It’s an easy lift to bring electronics to your local waste facility when they have drop-off days, or to bring household cleaners that are unwanted to a recycling facility. Used motor oil or antifreeze can typically be taken to a local garage for disposal as well.
It’s important to look to your local municipality for direction on where, when, and how to recycle these household items and prevent damage to the environment.
Proper Disposal is Good For Us All
Hazardous construction materials should typically be disposed of by a professional, however, as a homeowner, it’s important to understand the severity of improper disposal. This way, you can make an educated decision on hiring the right professional for the job, and ensure they will take care of the waste responsibly.
Household items, on the other hand, are just as important to dispose of safely, and as a consumer, it’s up to you to do so. If we all do our part in making sure that we’re recycling anything we can, reusing when possible, and making sure we’re disposing of household materials at the proper facilities, we can make a huge impact on the environment going forward.