Week of 2/8/2004

Dear Earth Talk: I still have asbestos siding on my house and want to remove it. How do I do so and dispose of it properly?
—Marian Masters, Bowerston, OH

In some cases, the safest thing to do about asbestos siding may well be nothing at all. Before the 1970s, asbestos mineral fiber was frequently used in schools, homes, factories and public buildings as insulation, shingling and other components. Asbestos was popular because of its resistance to corrosion and fire. Health researchers discovered, however, that some forms of asbestos dust, when inhaled and lodged in lung tissue, can foster a variety of lung diseases, including lung cancer. Symptoms usually don’t occur until 20 to 30 years after exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency"s (EPA) Office of Pollution, Prevention and Toxics.

Asbestos-containing products were banned in 1989, but that decision was overturned in 1991. However, certain asbestos-containing products—flooring felt, rollboard and corrugated, commercial or specialty paper—remain banned.

Asbestos is dangerous only when the fibers are released into the air, so the EPA recommends checking materials regularly, without touching them, for tears, abrasions or water damage. "Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it," according to the EPA"s website. Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate officials to find out proper handling and disposal procedures for your area.The EPA warns that if asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, such as remodeling, you need to hire a professional.

CONTACT: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pollution, Prevention and Toxics, (202) 566-0500, www.epa.gov/asbestos/ashome.html#6.

Dear EarthTalk: What ever happened to the Adopt-A-Rainforest programs that were so popular in the early 1990s?
—Chris Marlowe, Scotch Plains, NJ

Several environmental organizations still sponsor programs that allow the conservation-minded to help protect development rights in the rainforest. However, some of these programs have expanded their focus and now combine land purchase with financial support for local community groups promoting sustainable forest management. "The only change in our Adopt-A-Rainforest program has been in the selection of projects we support but not in the philosophy," says Julianne Schrader, education program coordinator at Rainforest Alliance.

The money Rainforest Alliance raises (around $20,000 each year) supports conservation groups based in tropical countries that are working to stop local rainforest destruction. Sometimes these groups use the funds to purchase land, but if no appropriate forest is available, the money is used to hire, train and equip park rangers, fund environmental education programs, create buffer zones for wildlife and maintain ranger stations and other park facilities. "In the past, we had our land purchase projects separate from other community conservation projects. The land projects were often more popular, but now many donors let us designate their funds to the projects with the greatest needs," says Schrader.

The Rainforest Action Network"s "Protect-an-Acre" program, established in 1993, also donates money it collects to local groups, indigenous tribes, human rights and other organizations, mostly in the Amazon Basin. The grant money is used in a variety of ways, including securing protected areas and land titles, sustainably harvesting medicinal plants and exploring economic alternatives to logging. The Tropical Rainforest Coalition funnels donations to its "Save-an-Acre" program to small preserves in Belize, Ecuador and Trinidad. Fifty dollars will buy—and protect—one acre of rainforest.

Adoption programs aren’t for rainforests exclusively: The Nature Conservancy"s "Adopt-an-Acre" program is centered on the purchase of 150,000 acres in Chile"s Valdivian Temperate Forest that would preserve a corridor of habitat between existing national parks.

CONTACT: Rainforest Alliance, (888) 693-2784,www.rainforest-alliance.org; Rainforest Action Network, (415) 398-4404,www.ran.org; Tropical Rainforest Coalition, www.rainforest.org; The Nature Conservancy, (703) 841-5300, www.tnc.org.