Chemical Treatments Neutralize Asbestos

Brookhaven National Lab and WR Grace issued a major joint press release last December (attached below) announcing the development of a new commercially available treatment process that changes the chemical makeup of chrysotile asbestos. This is the type of asbestos used in fireproof coatings on structural steel.

The process destroys the asbestos in place, while maintaining its fireproofing properties. An acidic foam is applied, which soaks in and digests the asbestos molecules. The resulting material simply is not asbestos any more.

Contact Len Ciesluk, 410-531-4645,

The form of asbestos used for thermal insulation (e.g. pipe wrapping and boilers, etc.) contains a different form of asbestos called amosite. The WR Grace process does not apply to amosite, but work is proceeding rapidly at Brookhaven on other formulations that will deal with both types of asbestos (sometimes a mix is used). Brookhaven is applying for patents, and is looking to DOE for additional funding. They’ve already begun discussions with a few utilities, and would be delighted to talk to UFTO companies about working with them to turn this new chemistry into a commercial process, estimated to require only a few months.

Contact is Leon Petrakis, 516-344-3037,

W.R. Grace – BNL Press Release

–Product Destroys Asbestos While Maintaining Original Materials’ Fire-resistive Capabilities on Columns and Beams–

–Product Should Provide Significant Cost Savings to Building Owners–

The new technique uses a foamy solution sprayed directly onto asbestos-containing fireproofing. The foam chemically digests asbestos fibers, dissolving them into harmless minerals.

When the treatment is done, the fireproofing is no longer a regulated material. The process is the first to chemically destroy asbestos without first removing the fireproofing.

Grace anticipates that building owners will realize significant cost savings from the new product. Current techniques for removing asbestos-containing fireproofing require the construction of air-tight barriers, labor-intensive scraping of the fireproofing, and the installation of new asbestos-free fireproofing. The new product eliminates the need to remove and replace older material and substantially reduces the time needed for the entire process. Moreover, the new process produces essentially no waste and is expected to save building owners the expense of disposing of regulated waste materials.

The new product is expected to be commercially available in early 1998.

Larry Ellberger, chief financial officer and acting chief executive officer of Grace, stated, “This product is an important advance in the science of asbestos abatement. Our scientists embarked on this research several years ago because it was a natural extension of our expertise and because we were committed to helping our customers find a more time-efficient and cost-effective alternative to asbestos removal. We are gratified by the excellent collaboration we have had with the scientists at Brookhaven, whose expertise in chemistry and materials science was a perfect complement to our scientists’ knowledge of the product and its properties. Brookhaven’s involvement was critical to the timely completion of this project. This is a win-win for Grace shareholders, building owners and industry-government cooperation.”

Dr. Leon Petrakis, the senior scientist in charge of the project at Brookhaven, said, “We are delighted to have worked with Grace on this project. We believe our collaboration has led to a turning point in the important but until now rather overlooked science of asbestos abatement. This method could be used in thousands of schools, office buildings, hospitals, and other institutions around the country. We also believe it could lead to the development of a family of innovative materials that chemically digest asbestos-containing materials, with potential applications for addressing asbestos in thermal insulation at the Department of Energy, in other governmental facilities and in the utility industry.”

Extensive Tests Performed

Full-scale tests performed with the new product by Grace and Brookhaven have confirmed that its use would reduce asbestos to less than 1 percent, which is the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of non-asbestos materials. The asbestos-neutralizing process was first evaluated in Brookhaven’s unique testing laboratory, specially equipped to handle asbestos. It was then tested at a vacant four-story building with existing asbestos-containing fireproofing.

All tests performed to date used Grace’s asbestos fireproofing. Project scientists, who are knowledgeable about the composition of asbestos-containing fireproofing made by others, believe the process should be effective on most of those products as well.

Although most of the efforts thus far have been centered around spray-applied fireproofing, laboratory tests conducted by Grace and Brookhaven have confirmed that the digestion process should also be effective with acoustical plasters.

Grace expects to receive six patents for the new asbestos-neutralizing process. Brookhaven has received one patent relating to the process and is applying for two others.
Brookhaven and Grace also developed a new quantitative analytical method that detects chrysotile asbestos fibers in material containing as little as 0.1 percent of the fibers. Development of the technique utilized the powerful X-rays of Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source, as well as conventional laboratory instruments.

Scientific Cooperation at Work

The development of the asbestos-neutralizing process began at Grace several years ago. Through mutual participation in the Council for Chemical Research, scientists from Grace and Brookhaven met to discuss ways that Brookhaven could participate in the research.

The partners signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, which provided for joint funding of the multi-million dollar project. The project also received funding from the Department of Energy, which represents cooperation within that agency, including the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management and the Office of Energy Research. Initial funding also came from Brookhaven’s pool of Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds and its Department of Applied Science.

Grace, based in Boca Raton, Florida, is a leading global supplier of flexible packaging and specialty chemicals with annual sales of $3.5 billion. Grace is the world’s leading producer of spray-applied fireproofing–Monokote® MK-6– to protect structural steel against damage from fire. Grace operates in more than 100 countries.

Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Brookhaven is operated by Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
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Brookhaven Laboratory scientists have helped create an innovative, safe solution to a tough problem that affects people around the country. This is just one example of many achievements at Brookhaven, known for its contributions in medicine, basic research, energy and environmental science. Partnerships between Department of Energy laboratories and private industry consistently reap tangible rewards. In this case, we will make a difference in safely removing asbestos from schools, houses, offices and other buildings.”

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