Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Asbestos-Based Building Materials

Eco-friendly alternatives give facility managers a solution to the potential health hazards of asbestos-containing materials.

Contributed by The Mesothelioma Center

For decades, asbestos was used in construction building materials, both for residential and commercial properties. The impact and extent of asbestos in homes is widely discussed, while its use in commercial and public buildings often takes a backseat. Asbestos in commercial buildings poses as much of a threat to the safety of those working in it as it does to those living in a residential home. Facility managers and property owners must understand the risks and possible alternatives to asbestos building materials.

asbestos building materials
(Credit: Liz Weddon)

Asbestos Exposure Risks

Exposure to asbestos presents serious health risks, both for humans and animals. Risks include:

  • Asbestosis – Scarring in the lungs, making it harder for oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through and more difficult to breathe.
  • Pleural disease – A non-cancerous lung condition that may make the membrane surrounding the lungs thicker and build fluid around the lungs.
  • Lung cancer – Tumors that invade the lungs and block air passages.
  • Mesothelioma – A rare type of cancer that covers the lungs and membrane surrounding them and other internal organs. Its most common cause is from exposure to asbestos.

Is There Asbestos In My Building?

Buildings that were constructed before 1980 are the most likely to contain asbestos. In the 1970s, several pieces of legislation were passed to regulate the use of asbestos, including:

  • The Clean Air Act of 1970 – Classified asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant and banned spray-application asbestos products.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 – Gave the EPA the authority to restrict asbestos and other chemicals.
  • The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 – Forced the EPA to create standards for the identification and removal of asbestos in schools.

If you suspect that materials your building was built with contain asbestos, it’s best to hire a trained and accredited asbestos professional to inspect your property. As long as these materials have not been disturbed or damaged, there is little health risk. However, it still is important to deal with these potentially hazardous materials. Your asbestos professional will recommend the next course of action after inspecting your building.

Regulations To Keep In Mind

In the United States, the Clean Air Act of 1970 established certain regulations that the owner, operator or manager of buildings must follow when it comes to asbestos. Owners or operators of buildings that may contain a certain amount of asbestos must notify their respective state agency before any demolition or renovations to the building.

In addition, any asbestos professionals that work with materials containing asbestos in commercial or public buildings must be accredited by a program that at least follows equivalent standards to the EPA Model Accreditation Plan.

Eco-Friendly Alternative Building Materials

For those that are concerned about the asbestos in their buildings, there are a number of alternative eco-friendly building materials that can be used in place of asbestos.

Cellulose Fiber

Cellulose fiber is a commonly used alternative to asbestos. Cellulose fiber insulation is made from recycled paper products, mainly newsprint. These paper products are chemically treated, reducing their moisture content and increasing their fire resistance. Cellulose fiber has a very high content of recycled material, normally ranging from 82% to 85%.

Flour Fillers

Flour filler is made from natural resources and fills cracks, crevices, and other spaces. Flour filler also can help with insulation. Some of the most common materials used to create flour fillers are pecan shell flour, wheat flour, rice flour, and rice hull ash. Flour fillers are a completely natural, “green” alternative to asbestos that do not expose building occupants to hazardous substances.

Thermoset Plastic Flour

A common alternative to asbestos, thermoset plastic flour is made from the heating of a powder-formed liquid and molding it into a specific shape. Once the shape is formed it can be used in a variety of different applications, such as electrical insulation.

Amorphous Silica Fabrics

Amorphous silica fabrics are heat and cold resistant knitted or braided cloth materials. These fabrics are strong and do not rot away or burn. While amorphous silica fibers are incredibly strong, they aren’t used in the construction of residential homes due to the fiberglass they contain.

Polyurethane Foams

Commonly used in roofing, polyurethane foams are a spray product that can be quickly applied to an area. The foams seal the interior from the weather and harsh temperatures while providing insulation. Since the bubbles inside of the foam are poor conductors of heat they act as perfect insulators.

While asbestos can be commonplace in buildings constructed before 1980, these eco-friendly alternatives give building owners and facility managers a solution to the potential health hazards of asbestos-containing materials.

The Mesothelioma Center at is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource. The Center’s core purpose is advocacy, awareness and connecting people to the best mesothelioma resources. For more than 15 years, they have built a community of top doctors, hospitals, experts and survivors to help guide patients and their families.

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