Proposed Study Could Pave the Way for Asphalt Shingle Recycling

A proposed study to determine whether tear-off, waste and demolition shingles are safe to recycle could be completed as early as mid-2001. In September, Environmental Engineer Paul Reusch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Region Five, based in Chicago, sent a preliminary study proposal to recyclers and state regulatory agencies across the country, soliciting feedback on the study's procedure and overall usefulness.

The EPA and its partner, the Construction Materials Recycling Association (CMRA), Lisle, Ill., hope to pave the way for asphalt shingle recycling by providing recyclers and regulators with information about the shingles' makeup, Reusch explains.

"Currently, there is a lack of understanding in the recycling industry and in regulatory agencies with respect to environmental issues associated with asphalt shingle processing ... particularly with respect to asbestos," he says.

In fact, many states oppose post-consumer asphalt shingle recycling because they believe shingles may contain traces of harmful contaminants such as asbestos, according to CMRA Executive Director William Turley.

However, some states are reconsidering this notion, Turley says. For example, in April, Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation's Waste Management division, based in Waterbury, Vt., tested asphalt shingle samples from 95 sites across the state and found only one sample that contained traces of asbestos. Based on these findings, the Vermont towns of Milton and Hinesburg decided to incorporate asphalt shingles into road resurfacing projects.

"Shingles could be the next big thing in construction and demolition recycling," Turley says, adding that the petroleum-based emulsifier in asphalt shingles makes them useful in hot mix asphalt and dust- control applications.

Consequently, the EPA wants to define the material properties and potential risks of post-consumer shingles to establish "an accepted protocol for assessing and minimizing the potential risks," Reusch says.

The idea for the study grew out of discussions at a CMRA and Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA) forum on asphalt shingle recycling, and the CMRA's annual meeting.

"We were discussing ways to increase asphalt shingle recycling, and ta-dah, we had this idea," Turley says.

At that point, Turley and Reusch recruited the Calverton, Md.-based ARMA, as well as the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), Rosemont, Ill., as study partners.

As of Oct. 17, 2000, Reusch had received responses to his study proposal from only six of the 50 states. Responses were discussed at an October 30 meeting with the study partners.

After reviewing the preliminary study proposal, Jeff Dellinger, industrial hygiene consultant for North Carolina's Health Hazards Control Unit, Raleigh, N.C., questions the study's procedure.

"I'd like to know if they're doing representative sampling of different colors and styles of 3-tab roofing shingles," Dellinger says, adding that he has seen as many as 30 different shingle styles within a few square acres. Dellinger also would like to know whether the EPA staff will use the newest method for bulk analysis, developed in the mid-'90s, which allows researchers to examine thin fibers more closely.

Even small amounts of asbestos can be harmful in road applications if stirred up during construction, Dellinger says. Consequently, he's encouraging EPA Region Five researchers to monitor ambient air during the shingle grinding process as well as during highway construction projects.

Currently in North Carolina, recyclers must pay approximately $15 to test each homogenous load of post-consumer asphalt shingles. This makes shingle recycling cost-prohibitive, according to John Blaisdell, market development specialist for North Carolina's Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Raleigh. But Blaisdell hopes the proposed EPA study will open the door for post-consumer asphalt shingle recycling.

"We know [the shingles] are a great product that's working very well," Blaisdell says. "You've got a source-separated commodity that's just ripe for the picking."

Reusch says he will know the details and timeline for the study sometime this month.