Before the modern era of durable, environmentally-sound seawalls made from vinyl and composite materials, many seawalls were made out of treated timber, concrete, steel, aluminum, coquina rock, concrete bags, and even asbestos sheeting.
The problem is that these older generation seawalls built in the 20th century are starting to corrode, rot, and crumble. In some cases, that can expose the environment to hazardous materials like asbestos.
Asbestos in Seawalls
Before its negative side effects were known, asbestos was used in cement seawalls for its perceived positive properties.
Faith Franz, writer at the Mesothelioma Center, says, “Concrete precasters added asbestos to products to make them less permeable and less likely to crack. Asbestos was considered a good fiber reinforcement since it was inexpensive, readily available, and easily blended into the mix.”
Unfortunately, over time these walls have started to break down, and cities and neighborhoods with seawalls are concerned about the potential consequences.
Why It’s Difficult to Test Seawalls for Asbestos
The biggest risk from asbestos is when it is airborne. This makes it difficult to test for, as disturbing the material with tools and equipment can make a contained problem much worse by exposing “locked-in” and extremely tiny fibrous asbestos particles to the air and—the serious danger—into our lungs.
The silver lining is that when properly contained, the risk of asbestos is mitigated.
Repairing a Seawall Containing Asbestos
One way to repair an asbestos-containing seawall is to effectively bury it under rock and earth on an as-needed basis. This is possibly the cheapest option up front, but still leaves the risk of erosion and contaminated material degradation, not to mention can require a great deal of real estate.
Solving the Asbestos Seawall Problem the ESP Way
At ESP, we typically recommend fully encapsulating the old, potentially asbestos-contaminated wall with a new, vinyl seawall. It is far too risky to try and remove the old wall, and ultimately not necessary.
In effect, we install a modern, impermeable vinyl seawall in front of the original, then backfill behind the wall to permanently seal in the old crumbling wall.
This vinyl seawall solutions mitigates the risk of asbestos entering the environment, and has the added benefit of being more durable, cheaper, and faster to install compared to concrete walls.
Asbestos Containment for Sebastian, FL Saves City Time & Money
In a great example of seawall asbestos containment, ESP partnered with the city of Sebastian, FL to repair its section of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The service life of Sebastian’s Transite concrete seawalls had reached a critical state and started to fail. The asbestos-containing seawalls had environmental implications and added potential complexity to the project.
However, through an innovative encapsulation technique using our vinyl seawall system, we were able to secure and “entomb” the hazardous materials—all while saving the city $60,000 and adding back valuable real estate. You can learn more about the project in our Collier Canal Case Study.
ESP has years of experience under our belt when it comes to solving seawall asbestos issues. If you have concerns that your city or neighborhood’s seawall contains asbestos, please CONTACT US or give us a call at 1-800-687-0036. We offer our advice and estimates free of charge!