The Furious 5: The Five Most Dangerous Building Materials

(5-min read)

As the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was ratified in 1976, this move gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to control the use of certain chemicals for the protection of the American people. Though other countries have banned some substances and not others, thus far, the EPA has concentrated their efforts against five especially dangerous building materials out of the over 80,000 currently in use — asbestos, di-isocyanates, formaldehyde, silica, and flame retardants. In this piece, we’re going to look at these chemicals and what their past use means for demolition professionals.


Despite an attempted ban on asbestos in 1989, an overturning of their efforts in 1991 has kept the hazardous fire-resistant building material in more commercial and residential structures than we’d like to think about. The overturn of the ban was because the EPA’s burden of proof had not specifically associated asbestos with a variety of diseases — most notably cancer. Since then, over 15,000 people die in the United States every year due to illnesses brought on by their exposure to asbestos. 

What this means for the demolition industry:

The demolition of older structures must be approached with extreme sensitivity in regards to asbestos. Structure components such as pipes, floor tiles, cement boards, shingles, and joint compound from older buildings may contain asbestos. For this reason, demolition professionals experienced in hazardous material waste removal must be utilized to remove the substance.

Bonus: We've created a quick history of asbestos for your reading pleasure. 


As hard as they are to pronounce (die-eye-so-sigh-ih-nates), di-isocyanates have been utilized in building construction since the ‘40s. These chemicals are most prevalent in polyurethane products. Even though the general public is mostly not at risk of harm from these products, construction workers who have experienced increased exposure to these chemicals in their liquid or vapor form certainly are. Some symptoms of exposure range from asthma to irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Other conditions include gastrointestinal irritation, bronchitis, and pneumonitis.

What this means for the demolition industry:

Demolition professionals must be aware of the existence of di-isocyanates when demolishing a commercial or residential structure to avoid the risk of exposure. These chemicals may exist in construction adhesives, sealants, coatings, elastomers, as well as various types of foams.


When one hears the word “formaldehyde,” they may think that the chemical is only used within the mortuary industry for body preservation purposes. Despite this and being a known carcinogen (causer of cancer), the chemical has been utilized in various construction materials over the years. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can result in respiratory issues, irritation of the skin, and cancer.

What this means for the demolition industry:

Demolition professionals should be aware that formaldehyde may exist in certain forms of insulation, resins, polymers, and the manufacturing process of various of building materials.


Perhaps the most prevalent substance on this list, silica is a material found in everything from glass to brick and concrete. Though a seemingly benign substance in itself, prolonged exposure and inhalation of silica can cause significant damage to the lungs and kidneys. Because of its abundant presence in building materials and being treated simply as “sand,” this naive spirit has increased the overall exposure risk to silica and has caused it to become especially dangerous.

What this means for the demolition industry:

When demolishing structures that contain glass, brick, and concrete, OSHA regulations require workers to take the appropriate measures. Though some worksites may fall within OSHA’s “permissible exposure limits (PEL), it is always in the worker’s best interest to take the appropriate action in regards to their safety when exposed to any level of silica.

Flame Retardants

Extinguishing fires has been a challenge for safety professionals for generations. The burning of certain substances changes the effectiveness of certain extinguishing efforts. Because of this, various chemicals have been developed to battle flames — some containing chemicals that are especially detrimental to human health. Some of these chemicals, such as asbestos, were once used in the manufacturing process of various building materials. Only later has it been discovered that exposure to these fire-fighting chemicals may cause birth defects, endocrine disruption, developmental problems, and even cancer.

What this means for the demolition industry:

Demolition professionals are aware that older building materials may contain hazardous fire-retardant compounds. Some of these construction materials include thermal insulation, treated concrete, and various fabrics.

The Importance of Utilizing an Experienced Demolition Professional

Though it may seem like anyone with a sledgehammer can demolish a structure, only experienced professional demolition experts can limit one’s exposure to hazardous materials. The demolition professionals from DT Specialized Services out of Tulsa, OK are experienced and licensed to provide the demolition of structures containing hazardous materials.

Learn more about the demolition professionals from DT Specialized Services today.