After the Storms—Common Building Wastes and Hazards

Many building materials contain toxic substances and will need special handling.  Look down the first column for your building waste.  Then, click on the toxic substances on the top row to learn more. 

Call a regional hazardous waste specialist for assistance if you have any questions. 

The Hazardous Waste Services Directory is a searchable database of businesses that can help you to dispose of your wastes properly.

Building Wastes

  Asbestos Lead Mercury PCBs Arsenic and Chromium Creosote Other Toxins

Paint, paint chips

X
X
X
X
   
X (pesticides, pigments, etc.)

Plumbing pipes

X
X
         

Treated wood, outdoor timbers

       
X
X
 

Thermostats

   
X
       

Appliance electrical switches

   
X
       

Fluorescent lamps, Compact fluorescent light bulbs

   
X
X
     

Batteries

 
X
X
X
     

Siding, flooring, wallboard, caulk

X
   
X
   
X (Wallboard is a state-only waste)

Common Toxic Hazards in Building Wastes

Asbestos can be found in old linoleum, ceiling tiles, siding and other materials in homes built before 1977.  Asbestos lodges in the lungs and can cause serious illnesses.    Local Air Agencies regulate asbestos removal.  See Regional Resources for the Air Agency in your area.  For more details, see:

Asbestos in Your Home describes where you might find asbestos in buildings, from the Environmental Protection Agency

Asbestos page from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Asbesto (Amianto) página en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Mercury can be found in heater thermostats, some switches, such as in stoves, thermometers, barometers and some light bulbs.  Protect yourself from this neurological poison.  Do not handle mercury.  Keep mercury contained, closed and cool until you can bring it to your local hazardous waste facility. For more details, see:

Mercury reduction discusses this neurotoxin and Ecology's efforts to eliminate it.

Mercury Where You Live EPA discusses mercury here.

Mercury Public Health Statement  and ToxFAQ on Mercury from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Mercurio (Azogue) ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Lead is found in older painted structures and plumbing pipes.  Paint chips are a common source of this poison.  Lead can cause learning difficulties and heart problems.  Children who have been overexposed to lead may have difficulty with tasks requiring high intelligence and impulse control. For more details, see:

Basic Lead information from the Environmental Protection Agency

Indoor Air Quality Lead pages from EPA

Lead Poisoning Prevention Program from the Centers for Disease Control

Public Health Statement for Lead and ToxFAQ on Lead from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Plomo ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Reducción de los riesgos de contaminación por plomo cuando remodela su casa del Environmental Protection Agency

Arsenic and Chromium are both found in treated wood. These two cancer-causing chemicals are not the only treated-wood toxins. Many pesticides have been used to make wood free of mold and insects.  Do not burn treated wood. For more details, see:

Public Health Statement on Arsenic and ToxFAQs for Arsenic from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Public Health Statement for Chromium and ToxFAQs for Chromium from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Arsénico ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Chromo ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are no longer made in the United States, but they are still present in many building materials.    They are listed as "probable human carcinogens" by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and also adversely affect the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. For more details, see:

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) page at the EPA

Public Health Statement for Polychlorinated Biphenyls and ToxFAQ on PCBs from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Polibromobifenilos ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Creosote  Coal-tar creosote is the most widely used wood preservative in the United States. It is currently used only in commercial applications.  Coal tar, coal-tar pitch, and coal-tar-pitch volatiles are used for roofing, as well. To avoid liver and skin damage, avoid contacting creosote.  For more details, see:

Public Health Statement for Creosote and ToxFAQ on Creosote from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Creosote and Its Use As a Wood Preservative from the Environmental Protection Agency

Creosota ToxFAQs en Español de la Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Related information:

Designating Dangerous Waste

Outdoor Burning Web page from the Department of Ecology's Air Quality Program

Focus Sheet: Outdoor Burning

Resume Business is a disaster-recovery page for businesses from the State Emergency Management Division.