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close this bookBuilding Materials and Health (UNCHS/HABITAT; 1997; 74 pages)
View the documentABBREVIATIONS
View the documentFOREWORD
View the documentINTRODUCTION
View the documentA. Introduction
View the documentB. Health and building materials: An overview
View the documentC. Asbestos
View the documentD. Metals
View the documentE. Solvents
View the documentF. Formaldehyde
View the documentG. Insecticides and fungicides
View the documentH. Timber
View the documentI. Silica dust
View the documentJ. Earthen and traditional materials
View the documentK. Radon and its sources
View the documentL. Wastes
View the documentANNEX
View the documentREFERENCES

L. Wastes

Sources and health implications

As a result of rapid industrialisation, there has been a marked increase in the generation of wastes. On the other hand measures for the utilisation or disposal of such wastes lag behind compared to the amount of wastes being produced. Some of the industrial wastes produced are hazardous both to the environment and human health. Specific health hazards which arise during the production and use of building materials, in the demolition and disposal of building wastes are due to: gases and vapours, dusts, toxic metals-based products, and pests and disease vectors which may have inhabited the demolished buildings. In addition there is a range of health hazards to workers and to the community at large, arising from waste disposal sites. These include: the leaking of toxic chemicals (pesticides and heavy metals especially) into the ground water, from which they can contaminate drinking water, enter the food chain, or inhibit plant growth; the risk of skin contact or inhalation of toxic chemicals or mineral fibres; the spontaneous combustion of landfill containing combustible material or generating landfill gases (72) and radioactivity arising from the disposal of radioactive minerals.

Environmental and other factors influencing exposure

Factors influencing exposure to risks related to wastes include:


• improper discharge of hazardous materials resulting into being discharged into surface waters;

• improper storage and handling techniques, accidents during transportation, and indiscriminant disposal results into contaminated land and groundwater;

• removal of friable asbestos-containing waste from buildings during demolition or renovation;

• open dumping, i.e. land disposal creates fly, rodent, and odour problems, dumps also at times cause fire; and

• polyethylene, as well as plastics, are extremely hard to dispose off, in a land fill, the waste material can remain intact for many years.

Waste management

Considering the health hazards which can result from wastes, the collection and proper disposal of construction wastes is essential for the prevention of diseases and injuries. Generally hazardous wastes should not be abandoned. They should be disposed of safely, and wherever possible, at the expense of the generator. Options available for dealing with wastes include:


• Incineration treatment - which involves the destruction and detoxification, as well as neutralisation of wastes into less harmful substances;

• Secure land disposal - a process whereby deposits of waste are placed in land using volume reduction, encapsulation, leachate containment, monitoring, and control of air on surface, as well as subsurface; and

• Waste minimisation through source reduction and recycling. Source reduction involves the reduction of the amount of waste at the source through changes in the industrial processes e.g. application of low-waste technologies which entail maximum extraction of value components, with a minimum (or no) rejection of waste materials in solid, liquid or gas form. The building materials industry has also been contributing to the re-use and recycling of certain wastes as inputs to the construction industry. Reuse and recycling of wastes in the construction industry has the advantage of reducing the impact of quarrying, mining, and logging, thus reduces the undesirable health and environmental impacts. Examples of use of industrial wastes for construction purposes are given in table 18 (63).

However attention requires to be paid to possible health effects of these wastes too.

Table 18. Areas of application of some important industrial wastes in India.



Examples of Application Areas


Coal-based thermal power plants

Making bricks, hollow blocks, cement (Portland and pozzolana), tiles, aggregates, and as fill material


Phosphoric acid plant, ammonium phosphate

Making cement, gypsum boards, partition panels, ceiling tiles, artificial marble, and fibre boards

Red mud

Mining and extraction of alumina from bauxite

Making corrugated sheets, building blocks and bricks, tiles, as a binder, and as aggregates

Blast furnace slags

Conversion of pig iron to steel and manufacture of iron

Making cement, refractors, binding material, aggregates in concrete, and backfilling material


Source: BMTPC (1992). Building Materials News. Newsletter of the Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), Vol. 1 No. 4, New Delhi, India.

Mitigation measures

Many governments, especially in industrialized countries, have measures under the regulatory framework for the mitigation of health effects arising from hazardous wastes. Examples of such measures are contained in the Control Pollution Act 1974 of UK, Site Licensing, whose aims include (74):


• to ensure that waste treatment and disposal is carried out with no unacceptable risk to environment and to public health, safety and amenity;

• to put at a suitable local level the responsibility for deciding what conditions should be imposed at a given site so that full account can be taken of local circumstances;

• to ensure changing patterns of waste disposal do not prejudice safe operations, and equally that those responsible for waste: treatment and disposal take proper advantage of technical progress;

• to give waste disposers a clear idea of what operating standards are required of them;

• to secure the provision of sufficient facilities for the treatment and disposal of wastes;

• to ensure in the interest of proper allocation of national resources that sites are managed on the basis of recommended “best practice” and that unnecessary requirements are not demanded; and

• to ensure that sufficient information is available to the responsible authorities to enable them to fulfil their statutory duties to ensure that licence conditions are complied with and continue to be appropriate.

Table 19. A Summary of Building Materials, their areas of Application and related Health Hazards, Mitigation Strategies, and Substitute Materials



Health Hazards

Mitigation Strategies

Substitute Materials

1. Asbestos

Roofing sheets, ceiling tiles, light weight insulation and lagging, filler in plastics and roofing felts for sprayed steel coatings, pipe seals, additive to cement and board products, and for high temperature applications

Asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant tumour on the lining of the chest cavity or abdomen (mesothelioma) and allergic responses

Establish and enforce strict regulations for engineering control measures, and safe work practices in the manufacture, use, and handling of asbestos

Employers develop training programmes for employees exposed or likely to be exposed to fibres

Provide for substitution of asbestos where safe controls can not be assured

All mineral fibre-based substitutes, particularly MMMFs, should be investigated for their effect on health

Seal all installed components containing asbestos or MMMFs

Non-fibrous materials like non-toxic metals, soft wood and clay products, vegetable fibre materials, and man-made-mineral fibres. (The health effects of all substitute mineral-fibre based materials should be investigated thoroughly before use).

2. Toxic metals (cadmium chromium, and lead)

In compounds of paints and metallic finishes; other uses of lead include: water pipes, glazing bars for windows, and roofing associated works

Inflammation of larynx, perforation of nasal septum, lead poisoning related cerebral edema, anaemia, etc.

Label lead, chromium or cadmium based paints indicating unsuitable uses

Avoid toxic-metal related paints in situations accessible to children.

Keep related paintwork in good condition (to avoid flaking)

Cover old paint with alternative water-based vinyl-based paints

Vinyl-based paints, water-based paints, polyurethane varnishes; non toxic metal products and plastic products

3. Solvents (e.g. toluene, xylene, dichloromethane, etc.)

Used as key ingredients of adhesives, flooring materials and mastics

Sedation effects (slowed reaction time, decreased vigilance and anaesthesia), liver damage, damage of the nervous system, irritation and allergic responses

To avoid occupational hazards, use protective equipment and ensure good ventilation

Limited options are available at present; water-based paints reduce quantity of organic chemical solvents

4. Insecticides & fungicides (e.g. arsenic, dieldrin, lindane, Pentachlorophenol, etc.)

Timber treatment

Allergic responses, affects nervous system, skin/other cancers

Use timber species which are less susceptible to rot, and reduce the use of more vulnerable sapwood. Season timber before use, keep timber species at low levels of moisture, provide ventilation of under floor and roof spaces

At present there are no viable substitutes to insecticides and fungicides

5. Radon (exhaled from building materials containing radium)

Naturally present in soils, rocks and in some of the building materials like natural stones of igneous or volcanic origin, and industrial wastes such as phosphogypsum and blast-furnace slag

Lung cancer

Isolate radon-emitting materials from the indoor environment through use of: dense layers of internal render, moisture barriers such as polythene sheets, and special surface coatings, careful design of ventilation regime

Use materials with low levels of radon emission like sedimentary rocks (sandstone and limestone). For walling use bricks, adobe, timber framing or concrete blocks with sedimentary rock aggregates. For plastering - use cement-sand render in replacing phosphogypsum based mortar

6. Earthen and traditional materials

Flooring, walling and roofing

Posed by disease vectors (examples: Chagas’ disease, plague, typhus, relapsing fever, etc.)

Plaster walls and roofs with smooth durable materials, and spray walls and roofs with insecticides

Use durable, smooth, crack-free materials such as fired-clay products, concrete products, aluminium and iron based materials for roofing


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