The Hazardous Waste Obstacle – is it a real problem?

Jul 06, 2021

Over time, materials evolved from wattle and daub to sturdier materials such as stone and mortar.

Fast forward to the 20th Century where building techniques and materials have changed the Dublin landscape irrevocably with high rise buildings now the new norm.

The legacy of these modern times is not of magnificent buildings or iconic facades. It is the hidden legacies of asbestos, lead paint and contaminated ground. These are the clandestine secrets that every developer must encounter when a small footprint of Dublin is to be rejuvenated in the city centre. The typical commercial building from the 20th Century has all of these secrets and more, with asbestos fire proofing, pipework, boards and floors with other versions scattered within the building.

Every demolition or refurbishment project must first investigate the impact that the materials used in an existing building will have on the project. Factors such as the age, condition, location, and history of the structure all feed into the narrative of the future development. Routine projects are delayed with surveys and the prospect of the unknown, with people being subjected to dangerous conditions. This affects the length of time the project takes, the amount of design changes and ultimately the cost to the developer of the site.

Construction Waste

A serious downside to growth is the increase in the level of waste generated. In Ireland, we are relatively good at construction and demolition waste recycling and surpassed our EU target in 2018 by recycling 77% of all construction waste. The recycling of materials is generally measured by weight. It is typical that a demolished building will either be used as a mat to build a new road or to support a piling rig for new foundations. Having said that, it still leaves a remaining 23% of waste that will end up in landfill. Not only is this a cost to the developer, but more importantly an environmental cost.

Construction waste that is already recycled includes products such as steel, wood, concrete and plastics. The remaining landfill is comprised of hazardous materials and other materials such as carpets, curtains and furniture that are too difficult to recycle. There is a huge opportunity to explore ways to recycle or upcycle this waste and to start appreciating it as a commodity.  


Hazardous Materials – Asbestos

Asbestos is the name for a group of natural occurring mineral fibres which are strong and both heat and chemically resistant. Due to these properties, asbestos was commonly used in the past as insulation and fire proofing. It was also used as a component in other building materials. The risk associated with exposure to asbestos relates to the possibility that the fibres within the asbestos containing material (ACM) can become released into the air and are then inhaled. Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases (mainly cancers of the chest and lungs). These diseases will not occur immediately and can take from 15 – 60 years to develop.

 The likelihood of asbestos is usually dependent on the age of the building. It was primarily used in Ireland from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s with laws passed in 1994 and 1998 but a complete ban wasn’t enacted until 2004. When the building was constructed will determine whether there is a need for a demolition and refurbishment asbestos survey and the resulting direction that the project will take. The removal of asbestos is a highly specialised field and must take place under the HSA’s Asbestos-containing Materials (ACMs) in Workplaces – Practical Guidelines on ACM Management and Abatement.

 The exact value of the amount of raw asbestos or asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that has been imported into Ireland over the years is unclear, but an estimation can be obtained from the records held by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), (Comber, H. Pres. Comm.).

From these records it is estimated that over 689,019 tonnes of asbestos-containing materials were imported into Ireland between 1948 and 2004. An estimated 429,193 tonnes has been removed from Ireland for the years 1963, 1964 and 1974 to 2004 in various ways. Asbestos export figures from 1964 to 1974 are unavailable.

This hangover of asbestos materials is still affecting the building industry today. One has only to look at an aerial view of Dublin to spot the hectares of asbestos rooftops still covering the city and the age of the commercial stock in the City Centre. This is changing as buildings are renewed constantly in the current economic environment.

Knowledge is power

Armed with all the necessary information, the building owner and the Design Team can power forward with the project by retaining a general contractor for the work and sharing survey reports, associated environmental requirements and related documents. Depending on the situation, these related documents may also include for example, air monitoring which may be a legal requirement. These works require a Project Supervisor Design Process (PSDP) for which Garland has provided services to over 600 projects to date. For more information, visit the Garland website here

Ultimately the value of the land will trump any cost in preparing an area for site development. However in today’s climate the challenge and focus is on minimising environmental impact and the reduction of our carbon footprint.   

Starting the circular economy in an existing building can result in project savings and increased brand awareness in a new-age 21st Century where ‘going green’ does not necessarily translate into added expenditure.

Written by Michael Fleming - Associate at Garland

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