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May 20, 2014

Burning old structures can release harmful amounts of asbestos

MADISON -- People looking to get rid of an old building on property in Wisconsin need to find an option that doesn't include torching it.

Landowners, contractors and businesses are being cautioned against structure burns not only because they are illegal in Wisconsin, but also because burning is the least environmentally healthy way to dispose of old buildings, due to the high potential of releasing harmful asbestos into the air.

"With the exception of authorized fire training burns conducted by fire departments, it is illegal to burn any structures or buildings in Wisconsin," said Mark Davis, statewide asbestos coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources.

Fire department burns may only be conducted on standing structures that offer some training value. Buildings cannot be burned for the sole purpose of waste reduction or by anyone other than a fire department, emphasized Davis.

Under state law, fire departments and or building owners must have the building inspected for asbestos by a state-certified asbestos inspector prior to any training burn, and they must file an official form 10 working days prior to the desired burn date.

The asbestos inspections range from $350-$1,000, depending on the number of building materials to be sampled, with sample analysis for asbestos costing from $15-$30 per sample. If asbestos is found, it must be removed in its entirety before a training burn may occur. The cost of inspection and removal of asbestos and other harmful materials such as mercury thermostats, refrigerants, tires and other prohibited items generally falls upon the property owner.

Following the burn, DNR recommends disposing of cold ash and debris in a state-licensed solid waste facility.

Failure to conduct an asbestos pre-inspection or notify DNR 10 business days prior to these burns may result in citations.

"We're working very proactively to spread the word about asbestos regulations, as education is a much preferred approach to fines and penalties," said Davis.

While fines may seem high, they do not compare to the long term costs of releasing asbestos into our air. Asbestos is so strictly regulated because it is a confirmed carcinogen (causes cancer) and exposure to asbestos fibers can result in serious health issues.

Most forms of asbestos remain solid and fibrous at higher temperatures than the flames of a training fire, leaving the asbestos to be released into the air and distributed with the ash remaining from the fire.

"Once asbestos is released into the air during illegal structure burns, it has a chance to unknowingly expose those that are downwind from these sites," said Davis.

Most structures can contain an array of building materials (over 3,000) that are known to have asbestos used in their manufacture that pose environmental or health problems if burned or otherwise disposed of or removed improperly.

To dispose of asbestos containing materials, officials recommend contacting a contractor specializing in hazardous material removal, then contact the DNR to learn about safe locations for asbestos disposal.

More information is available by searching the DNR website for keyword "asbestos," including a "Planning Your Demolition or Renovation Project - A Guide to Hazard Evaluation, Recycling and Waste Disposal [PDF]." and "Training Burns: A guide in the Process of Fire Training".

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Mark Davis at 608-266-3658.

Last Revised: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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