Which Types of Construction Waste Are Hazardous?

    When you think about construction, do you think about hazardous waste? You should! At least if you’re in charge of a construction project, you’ll have to make accommodations to dispose of waste—including potentially hazardous materials.

    Anyone who works in construction knows that it can be a dangerous job and should take extreme care to make sure they are safe. Many different types of building material can cause harm or illness if disposed of incorrectly. Fortunately, those working in the industry needn’t worry, as there are several specific regulations in place to ensure that hazardous building materials are not disposed of in the wrong way.

    There are four determining characteristics of hazardous materials: flammability, toxicity, corrosiveness, and reactivity. Think of these characteristics as a way to discern which building material is dangerous and should be disposed of in a specific way.

    Flammable materials such as gasoline and propane can cause fires or explosions if not handled correctly or if they come into contact with a flame.  Flammable materials should be kept in a safe place away from any potential source of fire or heat until they can be disposed of safely.

    Disposing of flammable materials: They must not be thrown out with regular trash, but rather taken to a facility where they can be dealt with correctly.

    Toxic materials such as pesticides, mercury, or herbicides are poisonous and can be harmful to living things, particularly when ingested or inhaled. They are sometimes used in the construction industry, but should never be mixed with other building supplies.

    Disposing of toxic materials: Toxic material should not go down the drain or toilet because they can contaminate drinking water and harm wildlife. Instead, they must be disposed of in a designated hazardous waste container or taken to a facility that can handle it correctly.

    Corrosive materials such as car batteries and oven cleaners rust metal and eat away at other materials when allowed to come into contact with them. Corrosive material should be kept far away from any potential source of fire or heat.

    Disposing of corrosive materials: Corrosive material should never be thrown out with regular trash, but rather taken to a facility where it can be disposed of safely.

    Reactive materials such as fireworks and flares are unstable under certain conditions and can explode violently if not handled properly.  Reactive materials should never be thrown out with regular trash, but rather taken to a facility where they can be processed and recycled correctly.

    Disposing of reactive materials: Reactive materials should be kept in a separate container from other trash and marked with a hazardous waste tag. Even containers that were used to hold these materials need to be handled as hazardous waste themselves and not mixed in with other waste when emptied. Like the other types of hazardous waste, these materials should be sent to a facility that has the capability to dispose of them safely.

    All of these characteristics should make it easy to discern what is hazardous and how to properly dispose of it. But as long as you keep these four characteristics in mind, you should be able to safely and responsibly identify and deal with any type of building material!

    Some examples of common hazardous construction materials include sharp metals, toxic chemicals, and asbestos used in insulation or other building materials.  In all, the EPA regulates more than 100 hazardous substances found in buildings. Each needs proper disposal according to federal guidelines outlined in a law called “The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act” (RCRA).  Even the recycling of construction materials falls under this law.

    In all, there are many different types of hazardous construction material, and it is important to be aware of which ones should not be simply thrown away after a renovation or demolition.