EPA Guidelines on Building Debris and Demolition Following Natural Disaster

Cleanup activities related to homes and businesses damaged by hurricanes or other natural disasters can pose significant health and environmental challenges. Immediate and life-threatening conditions may arise from  leaking natural gas lines, and carbon monoxide poisoning from using un-vented fuel-burning equipment indoors.

However, there are other serious hazards that are not immediately life threatening but may cause long-term health issues such as exposure to asbestos, PCBs, lead, mold and other harmful substances, EPA recommends that adequate measures be taken during emergency situations to minimize exposure to such materials from the demolition of buildings

Various federal regulations apply to building demolition activities. Areas of primary federal concern include asbestos demolition requirements, the proper disposal of electrical equipment containing PCBs (i.e., distribution transformers and capacitors) and underground storage tanks, lead-based paint, pesticides, herbicides, varnishes, pool chemicals, industrial grade cleaning solutions or other harmful substances.

EPA also suggests the segregation of various wastes streams such as:

  • automotive/marine batteries;
  • pesticide cans;
  • explosives;
  • automotive oils;
  • fuels and fluids;
  • solvents;
  • paint thinners and stripper;
  • compressed gas containers;
  • household white goods (refrigerators, washer/dryers and stoves);
  • asbestos containing materials (asbestos shingles, siding and insulation);
  • PCBs (electrical equipment such as distribution transformers and capacitors);
  • electronics (televisions, radios, stereos, cameras, VCRs, computers, microwaves);
  • tires;
  • shingles;
  • domestic garbage; and
  • preserved woods.

EPA has established a webpage “Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings” that provides recommendations for handling various environmental issues associated with demolition of buildings damaged by hurricanes and major storms.