>> Monday, March 15, 2010
From the 1950s through the 1970s vinyl flooring and floor tiles usually contained asbestos fibers. They provided tensile strength to the compound, provided some insulating properties and served as a bonding agent. If you’re refurbishing an older home asbestos flooring shouldn’t be a surprise. What you choose to do with it does require some planning however.
The principal danger of asbestos materials, new or old, is dust. In the case of old flooring, roofing or insulation, tired asbestos can break up during removal and release dust during the process, which in turn puts asbestos fibers in the air. Those fibers are microscopic, can be inadvertently inhaled, and years later can cause asbestosis or mesothelioma cancer. That’s a serious diagnosis; the mesothelioma prognosis for most patients is less than two years survival.
Many people with old asbestos flooring or insulation choose to leave it in place. If it is sealed off from human exposure it can’t do any damage, and won’t be worn through daily use as flooring can be. If you have an old asbestos floor and don’t care about exposing what’s beneath it (such as hardwood) you may be better off just covering it with new flooring made from non-toxic composites.
If you choose to remove it, consider using a certified asbestos abatement professional. If you’re going to make it a DIY project, take some basic precautions – such as respiratory protection. Never do anything that will create fragmentation or dust. If the tiles you’re removing tend to break, wet them down to minimize dust. Never sand the adhesive beneath them; that is usually an asbestos product as well. Don’t use a vacuum to clean up; that will pick up some of the rubble but will just put the asbestos fibers back in the air. For some good basic information on asbestos and older homes, consult the EPA fact sheet that will take you through the basics.
Ben Stillwater is a freelance writer for Asbestos News, an online resource on mesothelioma and asbestos news.