Toxic Building Materials and How To Dispose of Them

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Drywall SheetsI dealt with some pretty nasty crap over the years. Corroded toilet bowls, moldy drywall, collapsing trailers – gross to say the least. One of worst parts of these jobs wasn’t the part where I had to touch the stuff, but rather figuring out what to do with it all after it got ripped out. A lot of local landfills just won’t accept toxic building leftovers. To make matters worse, I’d end up having to drive halfway across the state to find a dump that would accept the stuff. If you’ve got a nasty mess left over from your latest remodeling project; what do you do with it all? Consider these guidelines to handling and disposing toxic building materials and don’t get sick of these nasty byproducts from construction renovations, remodeling and repairs.

  • Treated Wood
    This is one of the most common “nasty’s” that inhabit older homes. Newer pressure treated materials use a borate-base to treat lumber and these are relatively safe to throw away. Older treated wood used chromated copper arsenate (CCA) to pressure treat lumber. Creosote, a coal based product, was also used in some wood foundation materials. These two materials are toxic and should never be burned, mulched or thrown into the open ground. Bag and bury them in a lined landfill, as it’s the safest way to get rid of chemically treated wood.
  • Drywall
    Calcium carbonate or gypsum occurs naturally in the ground so using it to fertilize your lawn is ok, right? Not necessarily! Some drywall isn’t mined at all; it comes from the sodium scrubbers at your local coal power plant. Toxic materials like sulfides, fungicides and heavy metals can be present in drywall. Since drywall is 100 percent recyclable, it’s best to find a place that recycles it (good luck). My local construction landfill charges me a hefty fee to put it into their dumpsters. They then ship it a few hundred miles away to a gypsum board factory for recycling.
  • Paint
    Whether its old paint in the can or dried off chips and flakes, you can bet that it’s not only toxic to dispose of in the garbage, but it’s probably illegal. Paint that was made or applied prior to 1978 might contain lead and can only be disposed of by an EPA certified facility. Set aside your chips, flakes and half empty cans of paint, then call your local landfill. Most county landfills have a paint disposal program that will take these toxic building materials free of charge. Some will even offload the stuff right out of your trunk or truck bed.
  • Fiberglass Insulation
    Technically, this really isn’t a toxic material if its’ made from cellulose or newly constructed fiberglass (silica). It’s the older stuff that can be an issue. Older insulation often contains formaldehyde that can easily leach into groundwater. It’s best to call your local landfill and see what their policy is on disposal. Put it in a commercial grade garbage bag, compress the air out of it and bag it again to keep it safe and sound when it’s underground.
  • Vinyl Siding

  • Vinyl
    Another nasty construction leftover that doesn’t have a proper place to go. Vinyl has been known to release toxic chemicals after it degrades. Chlorine and the like can easily escape vinyl materials that are buried in the ground without protection. There are vinyl recycling companies out there, but more than likely, they are miles and miles from your home. Most landfills will take the stuff if it’s properly bagged before throwing it into the dump.
  • Light

  • Fluorescent Bulbs and Lamps
    Old fluorescent bulbs contain trace amounts of mercury and are pretty easy to find a place to get rid of them, most landfills and even some retailers like big box home improvement stores have a recycling program for old florescent bulbs. Another problem with old fluorescent fixtures isn’t just the bulbs – it’s the ballasts themselves. Older fluorescent ballasts may contain polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB’s), a toxic chemical that can leach out in both the air and as a liquid. If you come into contact with this toxic material, skin rashes and the like are just the beginning of your troubles. Continual exposure is known to cause rare forms of cancers. If you have any florescent fixtures that were installed prior to 1978, you might have some issues with their disposal. Only an EPA approved facility can take these nasty toxins to safely dispose of them.

Keep in mind disposal rules and laws vary widely. Getting in touch with your local landfill will often yield the info you need for the best way to get rid of these surprising home improvement toxins in your area.

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About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

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