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Asbestos Recycling

Recycling turns asbestos, a durable, fibrous, and cancer-causing mineral, into harmless glass. Asbestos recycling is not often used due to its costs but may become a popular option in the future. Learn more about asbestos recycling and its benefits.

Man in hazmat suit working on home

Can Asbestos Be Recycled?
Short Answer: Yes.

Asbestos can be recycled, but not in the way you would recycle paper or plastic. This type of recycling uses high temperatures to change asbestos fibers into glass or ceramic fibers that are safe to use for other purposes.

If asbestos is in your home, contact professionals that are properly trained to dispose of it. Do not try to remove or recycle asbestos yourself. This can disturb asbestos fibers and put you at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

How to Recycle Asbestos

Asbestos recycling must be performed by companies that have been approved to do so by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

To recycle asbestos, professionals:

  1. Remove the asbestos-containing material from a home, ship, or vehicle
  2. Wash the asbestos in a hot solution of sodium hydroxide followed by acid to dissolve the fibers
  3. Heat the solution to 2282 degrees fahrenheit (which changes the asbestos into glass)
  4. Recycle the glass or ceramic

Benefits of Asbestos Recycling

Saves Space
Asbestos is usually sealed and buried in landfills, not recycled. As landfills run out of space, burying large amounts of asbestos is becoming a problem.

Creates New Products
The glass produced from asbestos recycling can be used to make roads and construction materials. Selling this glass also helps lower the costs of asbestos recycling.

Lowers the Risk of Asbestos Diseases
Recycled asbestos-containing products no longer contain the toxic mineral. In turn, people who use recycled asbestos glass are not at risk of mesothelioma or other diseases.

Handling damaged asbestos-based products can lead to:

  • Mesothelioma: deadly cancer only caused by asbestos exposure
  • Other cancers: ovarian cancer or lung cancer
  • Asbestosis: life-threatening irritation and scarring of the lung lining
  • Pleural effusion: painful fluid buildup in the lung lining

Recycling and Asbestos Products

Asbestos was used from the 1930s until the late 1970s to make thousands of products. As these products were used or wore down, they could send stray asbestos fibers into the air. Inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma or other diseases later in life.

Older asbestos products can still be found in buildings, ships, and vehicles even today. If these products are not recycled or disposed of, those nearby can be exposed to dangerous asbestos fibers.

Man working on car brakes

Asbestos-Containing Products in Vehicles

The heat-resistant quality of asbestos made it a staple in vehicle parts that involve constant friction.

Asbestos-containing vehicle parts include:

  • Brake pads and linings
  • Clutch linings
  • Fume hoods
  • Heat seals
  • Hood liners
  • Transmission plates

Other countries still manufacture asbestos-based car parts today despite the risks. For example, in 2015, Toyota Australia issued a mass recall on Chinese brake pads made with asbestos.

Navy ship

Asbestos-Containing Products in Navy Ships

Due to government mandates, every Navy ship built before the 1980s contained asbestos to reduce the risk of fires. Neither the military nor the general public knew asbestos was dangerous, as manufacturers hid the deadly truth for decades.

Asbestos was found in:

  • Cement powder and mortar mix
  • Deck and floor tiles
  • Electrical cables and coatings
  • Fuel lines
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation
  • Meters
  • Pumps and hydraulics
  • Paint and wallboard
  • Sealants and adhesives
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Steam pipes
  • Valves

Non-military ships made before the 1980s also contained many asbestos-based products.

Man in hazmat suit working on a roof

Asbestos-Containing Products in Buildings

Asbestos was commonly used in the construction of buildings and homes to make them more durable and insulate them.

Asbestos was used in:

  • Cement
  • Drywall
  • Floors
  • Heating equipment
  • Insulation
  • Paint
  • Roofing shingles
  • Siding
  • Tiles

If you own a home or building made before the 1970s, it may be a good idea to learn if asbestos-based products are present. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even a single fiber can cause mesothelioma or other illnesses decades later.

Home Testing for Asbestos

Testing your home for the presence of asbestos can help you avoid being exposed.

Asbestos exposure in the home may occur through:

  • Home Remodeling: You may unknowingly disturb asbestos as you replace siding, tiles, or flooring during a remodeling project.
  • Natural Disasters: Hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters can damage a building’s structure and send asbestos fibers into the air.
  • Wear and Tear: Some asbestos-based products (like pipes) can break down over time, releasing asbestos fibers in the process.

Once you know whether the toxic mineral is in your home, you can have it safely removed and recycled if needed. The EPA recommends using accredited professionals to test for asbestos.

What to Do If Asbestos Is in Your Home

Check Its Condition

Asbestos that is not disturbed or damaged is unlikely to cause health problems. If you leave these products alone, you are not in danger.

Avoid Damaged Asbestos

Do not go into any part of your home that contains damaged asbestos-based products. If you aren’t sure if asbestos is present, leave the area alone and treat it as if it does contain asbestos.

Don’t Use At-Home Testing Kits

At-home testing kits for asbestos may be unreliable and could actually put you at risk of exposure.

Do Not Remove Asbestos Yourself

While it is legal to remove asbestos from your home in some states, you may put yourself at risk of exposure without proper training.

Removing Asbestos From the Home

It is in your best interest to work with professionals to remove asbestos-based products from your home. There are generally two types of asbestos professionals.

  • Asbestos Inspectors: Inspectors can see if asbestos is present and recommend next steps.
  • Asbestos Contractors: These individuals put in the work to remove asbestos. Contractors must follow proper asbestos removal regulations that inspectors can oversee.

Removing asbestos can be complicated. You may not be able to stay in certain rooms of your house — or the entire home — until the job is completed to avoid exposure.

Costs for asbestos removal also vary depending upon the project. The average cost to remove asbestos is about $2,000, but large-scale projects can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $30,000.

Tips for Working With Asbestos Professionals

Make sure that the asbestos removal team you work with has the proper training and experience for the job. Ask for proof of federal- or state-approved accreditation from any contractors you use.

If you are concerned about the quality of their work, speak to the local air pollution control board, the local agency that oversees worker safety, or the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Asbestos Recycling vs Abatement

Asbestos abatement is the sealing and removal of asbestos-based products. Abatement is much more common than recycling at this time.

Asbestos recycling costs three times as much as standard asbestos removal, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Contractors also need extra approval from the EPA if they want to recycle asbestos, making the process more complex.

Did You Know?

While agencies collected over 25.6 million pounds of asbestos in 2015, just 875 pounds were recycled, according to the EPA.

Asbestos recycling may be more widely used in the future if costs decrease.

Asbestos Removal and Disposal Laws

As the dangers of asbestos-containing products became widely known, the U.S. government passed laws to ensure they would be properly removed and disposed of. Learn more about some of these asbestos laws below.

  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – When passed in 1976, this act allowed the EPA to start regulating asbestos-based products.
  • Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) – AHERA established rules about removing asbestos-containing products from schools. It also set guidelines for accrediting contractors to remove asbestos.
  • The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) – These guidelines keep construction workers safe from exposure during demolition or renovation. They also provide rules on how to properly recycle asbestos-containing materials.

Is Asbestos Banned?
Short Answer: No.

Some asbestos-based products remain available for sale today despite heavy restrictions.

The EPA tried to ban asbestos completely with the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule in 1989, but this was overturned in 1991.

All asbestos-containing products come with a risk of exposure — unless they have been properly disposed of or recycled. In turn, the complete ban of this deadly mineral could have saved thousands of lives that were lost to asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos Recycling: Key Takeaways

Until asbestos is fully banned, recycling can help bring us closer to an asbestos-free world.

Here is what you need to remember about asbestos recycling:

  • Recycling turns dangerous asbestos fibers into harmless glass
  • Asbestos recycling is not often used today due to its costs, but this may change in the future
  • Never try to remove or recycle asbestos by yourself — always go to a professional

Consult with your abatement contractor near you to learn more about removing and recycling asbestos.