Demolition has long been in a struggle over convenience and sustainability. Taking down a building is challenging, and demolition is a fast, cheap and reliable way to do it.
Unfortunately, convenience comes at a cost.
Demolition is the single largest creator of landfill waste, generating 548 million cubic tons each year. Also, this process contributes to a large range of harmful chemicals contaminating our soil.
On the other hand, deconstruction is a breath of fresh air when it comes to building removal. The positive impact reclamation has on our landfills is unmistakable. We’re looking at upwards of 70% to 90% of all material being reused and recycled. Of course, it doesn’t just stop there. Deconstruction is growing ever more popular by the day, as new systems are being developed.
Not sure what deconstruction is? Check out our guide on the reclamation industry!
The Environmental Cost Of Demolition
Over a third of all C&D waste comes from demolished buildings. As we can see in the chart below, destroyed lumber makes up a staggering 22% of that. By using systems like reclamation, we can greatly reduce the amount of wasted material and use reclaimed material for future construction.
The magnitude of C&D waste isn’t the only problem we’re faced with. Heavy machinery used in demolition can have many unintended consequences. Oil, hydraulic fluid, and gas leaks are common and can take a heavy toll on the environment.
We can have a profound effect on our environment by choosing more sustainable methods such as deconstruction.
First, it employs more skilled labor over heavy machinery, because every board needs to be carefully preserved for future use. Second, the slow process of deconstruction prevents any harmful C&D dust from polluting our local areas. Lastly, it provides a source for 100% recycled material, such as reclaimed wood.
What Hazards Are Caused By Demolition?
When it comes to hazardous waste, demolition is one of the highest of any industry. There is an almost limitless amount of toxins and chemicals that can be used in construction, and all of those come tumbling out when we destroy structures.
“The air on construction sites normally contains potentially toxic dusts, fumes, and gases from when materials are cut, ground, blasted, crushed, drilled, and welded, and when heavy equipment lumbers across the earth.”
Though ground contamination is a problem, dust pollution is by far the greatest concern when it comes to C&D. Nearly all demolition dust that is released into the air is toxic to some degree, especially older buildings containing lead, asbestos, and mercury.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what to be aware of if demolition is happening near you.
- Silica dust
- Mold spores
- Lead poisoning
- Bird and bat droppings
What Is Silica Dust?
Silicosis, which comes from Silica Dust, is the number one reported illness created by demolition dust. Crystalline silica makes up a large part of some of our most commonly used resources, such as granite. Because concrete uses granite as its base, the blasting, grinding and crushing of concrete creates large amounts of silica dust pollution.
Think of Silica particles as little balls of razor blades that you’re breathing in, slicing your lungs from the inside and creating a large build-up of scar tissue. This tissue buildup hinders your ability to produce oxygen, leading to respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis, and in some cases, even death. As far as we know, the damage caused by breathing in Silica Dust is permanent and we currently have no cure for Silicosis.
What Is Histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection in the lungs caused by breathing in spores found in bird and bat droppings. When demolition occurs, these spores are trapped in the dust and become airborne, making it extremely easy to contract near demolition zones.
Though histoplasmosis isn’t usually fatal, it causes symptoms similar to asthma, and various other side effects such as, fevers, joint pain, migraines, muscle ache, and more. This infection can become fatal for those with compromised immune systems and is extremely dangerous to infant children.
For these reasons, if you’re looking to demolish a structure on your property, we highly suggest deconstruction as an alternative if you live with young children or elderly. Nearly all harmful dust that allows the fungus to spread is prevented because of the slow process of dismantling that is used.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a combination of minerals that, when refined, could be used as a fire retardant in almost any material. It was most popular in the early to mid-1900s for construction and clothing companies.
Why Asbestos is Harmful
The harmful effects of asbestos come from breathing in particles after they’ve become airborne. These little minerals are like millions of tiny razor blades (very similar to Silica Dust) that slowly cut our lungs up from the inside. This scar tissue builds up and leads to respiratory failure, and in rare cases, a deadly form of cancer called Mesothelioma, which can only be gotten from inhaling asbestos.
Asbestos poisoning is particularly troublesome for demolition due to the large use of these materials in older buildings. While asbestos is taken very seriously by the demolition industry, it’s often that not all of it is removed before destruction.
Asbestos is in its most dangerous form when crushed or destroyed, releasing the toxic fibers into the air and settling into soils around demolition zones.
While soil contamination may be less of an immediate health risk, the damage caused to our earth is unmistakable.
Demolition produces an abundance of hazardous waste from destroyed building material, heavy machinery fluids, and toxic substances found in older structures.
The most common soil pollution created from demolition includes:
- Heavy Machinery Leaks & Spills
The Problem With Lead
Lead paint has long been a problem when it comes to demolition. This is because most American homes were built earlier than 1978 – before the Government banned the use of lead paint.
The problem lead poses for demolition, is that it only becomes a hazard if it can be inhaled.
With that in mind, contractors are looking to deconstruction when dealing with older buildings. Due to the more careful approach of dismantling structures, we can eliminate the spread of lead dust.
Go Green – Choose Deconstruction
While demolition may be the only option for some situations, our goal is to inform our clients on the benefits deconstruction can have for your communities, and do our best to help support them. All in all, deconstruction offers a sustainable alternative that promotes local jobs and a cleaner environment.
We hope this guide helps you understand some of the potential risks that come from demolition, and that you’ll consider using deconstruction for your next salvage project!
Learn more about how deconstruction helps the environment in our Comprehensive Guide for Reclaimed Wood