Are the materials found in construction and demolition debris landfills harmful?

Although many of these materials may not sound harmful because they are used everyday in our homes and workplaces, when broken down and released into the environment, they can be very dangerous.  Also, we asked the question at the meeting as to what other materials would be permitted in the landfill.  We did not get a response.  So, as always, we did our research.  Below is a complete list of materials found in Construction and Demolition landfills nationwide.  The items in bold are considered hazardous, excluded, contaminants, chemical constituents that could affect the use of the waste as fuel, special, unacceptable, problem, potentially toxic, non-hazardous restrictive, or illegal by the EPA.  This information can be found at:



o        paving

o        shingles


o        dirt

o        sand, foundry

o        soil


o        fixtures

o        wiring


o        asbestos

o        building

o        extruded polystyrene (rigid)

o        fiberglass (bat)       

o        roofing


o        bricks

o        cinder blocks

o        concrete

o        mortar, excess

o        porcelain

o        rock

o        stone

o        tile


o        Aluminum (cans, ducts, siding)

o        brass

o        fixtures, plumbing

o        flashing        

o        gutters

o        mercury from external switches

o        iron

o        lead

o        nails

o        pipe (steel, copper)

o        sheet metal

o        steel (structural, banding,

o        decking, re-rod)

o        studs, metal

o        wire (e.g. copper)


o        brake fluid

o        form oil

o        fuel tanks

o        oil filters

o        petroleum distillates

o        waste oils and greases


o        paint contains and waste

o        paint products


o       cardboard

o       fiberboard

o       paper


o        buckets

o        pipe (PVC)

o        polyethylene sheets

o        Styrofoam

o        sheeting or bags

o        laminate


o        asbestos shingles

o        roofing, built up

o        roofing cement cans

o        roofing shingles

o        roofing tar

o        tar paper


o        siding

o        flooring

o        doors

o        windows


o        drywall (gypsum)

o        plaster


o        cabinets

o        composites

o        mill ends

o        pallets, shipping skids

o        crating

o        lumber

o        particle board

o        plywood

o        siding

o        trees

o        veneer


o        adhesives and resins

o        laminates 

o        paintings and coatings

o        preservatives

o        stains/varnishes

o        other chemical additives


o        adhesives and adhesive cans

o        aerosol cans

o        air conditioning units

o        appliances

o        batteries

o        carpeting

o        caulk (tubes)

o        ceiling tiles

o        driveway sealants (buckets)

o        epoxy containers

o        fiberglass

o        fines

o        fireproofing products  (overspray)

o        floor tiles

o        furniture

o        garbage

o        glass

o        lacquer thinners

o        leather

o        light bulbs, fluorescent and HID

o        light bulbs, other

o        linoleum

o        organic material

o        packaging, foam

o        pesticide containers

o        rubber

o        sealers and sealer tubes

o        sheathing

o        silicon containers

o        solvent containers and waste

o        street sweepings

o        textiles

o        thermostat switches

o        tires

o        transformers

o        water treatment plant lime sludge


Also, according to the report Damage Cases: Construction and Demolition Waste Landfills found on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, of the landfills studied in the report, all eleven reported ground-water contamination.  This report can be viewed at <>

Contaminants found in the ground-water have many dangerous health affects, listed below.  The information on these contaminants and asbestos was taken from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website.  You can look for this information at:

Aluminum: respiratory problems including coughing and asthma from breathing dust.  Some studies show that people with Alzheimer’s disease have more aluminum than usual in their brains.

Vanadium: breathing high levels of vanadium for short and long periods sometimes had lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, runny nose, and sore throat.

Chromium: breathing high levels of chromium (VI) can cause irritation to the nose, such as runny nose, nosebleeds and ulcers and holes in the nasal septum.  Ingesting large amounts of chromium(VI) can cause stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsion, kidney and liver damage even death.  Skin contact with certain chromium(IV) can cause skin ulcers.  Some people are extremely sensitive to chromium(VI) or chromium(III).  Allergic reactions consisting of severe redness and swelling of the skin have been noted.  Several studies have shown that chromium(VI) compounds increase the risk of lung cancer.  The World Health Organization has determined that chromium(VI) is a human carcinogen.  The EPA has determined that chromium(VI) in air is a human carcinogen.

Zinc: Zinc is an essential element in our diet, however, too much zinc is harmful.  Harmful effects can be cramps, nausea and vomiting.  Taken longer, it can cause anemia and decrease the levels of your good cholesterol.

Nickel: The most common harmful health effect of nickel in humans is an allergic reaction.

Manganese: exposure to high levels of airborne manganese can affect motor skills such as holding one’s hand steady, performing fast hand movements and maintaining balance.  It may also cause respiratory problems and sexual dysfunction.  

Lead: Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body.  The most sensitive is the central nervous system, particularly in children.  Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system.  The effects are the same whether is breathed or swallowed.  Lead may decrease reaction time, cause weakness in fingers, wrists or ankles and possibly affect the memory.  Lead may cause anemia.  It can also damage the male reproductive system.  The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that lead acetate and lead phosphate may reasonably be anticipated to be carcinogens based on studies in animals.  

Copper: copper is essential for good health, but high amounts can be harmful.  Long-term exposure to copper dust can irritate your nose, mouth and eyes, and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and diarrhea.  Drinking water with higher than normal levels of copper may cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea.  High intakes of copper can cause liver and kidney damage and even death. <> 

Cadmium: breathing high levels of cadmium severely damages the lungs and can cause death.  Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea.  Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease.  Others long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.  The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that cadmium may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen. <> 

Beryllium: Beryllium can be harmful if you breathe it.  A condition called acute beryllium disease can result if very high levels are breathed in.  Some people become sensitive to beryllium.  These people may develop chronic beryllium disease which may occur after years of exposure to higher than normal level of beryllium.  Long term exposure to beryllium can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. <>

Barium: difficulty breathing, increased blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, stomach irritation, brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the liver, kidney, heart and spleen. <> 

Antimony: breathing high levels for a long time can irritate your eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers.

Do C&D landfills accept asbestos?

Most C&D landfill accept asbestos, which has fibers that can enter the air or water from the breakdown of natural deposits and manufactured asbestos products.  Asbestos fibers do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water.  Small diameter fibers and particles may remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind or water before settling down.

Asbestos is supposed to be managed by delivering it in a sealed bag or container, and preparing a special location in the landfill to receive it. The contained asbestos must then be carefully moved from the hauling truck to the prepared location and buried immediately with non-sharp waste or cover materials. This management practice is designed to prevent the release of any asbestos to the environment.

However, asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material (such as transport or crushing).  In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed in some way to release particles and fibers into the air. 

Asbestos can be found in many building materials including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products.  Breathing in high levels of asbestos over a long period of time can cause scar-like tissue in the lungs  and the lining that surrounds the lungs.  Breathing lower levels of asbestos may result in changes called plaques in the pleural membranes - this can restrict breathing.  The EPA has also determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen.  It can increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.