Asbestos exposure and asbestos tile removal...did I screw up and what is my next step?
September 1, 2008 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Asbestos exposure and asbestos tile removal...did I screw up and what is my next step?

I am in the process of removing my old (nasty) carpet so I can lay down laminate wood flooring in my house. I started the project by ripping out all the old carpet and padding at which time I noticed there was vinyl tile underneath the carpet.

My plan was to just leave the tile and install the floating laminate flooring on top of it. However, there were tack strips and staples all over the floor. When trying to carefully remove the tack strips the tile kept breaking/cracking/crumbling. After finishing 1/2 the room and destroying about 20 of the these tiles it occurred to me that the tile may contain asbestos. I stopped working, sent out a sample and got confirmation that the tile does contain asbestos.

During the work I was wearing a respirator and had an air filter (HEPA filter) running since I have very bad allergies. However, I am concerned about a couple of items.

1) The respirator I was wearing was a 2 canister mask but was only rated for paint/solvents and not for asbestos/mold. Am I being paranoid about what I may have breathed in, or would the respirator likely catch most/all of the asbestos.

2) Most of the remaining tile is in-tact, but about 10% of the tile looks somewhat deteriorated...kinda like an old particle board table that has been used/moistened too many times. I dont know if the foundation is cracked under the tile and letting moisture up, but I am more concerned about the fragile tile.

3) I had windows open with my HEPA air filter running, but realize this may have done more harm than good by moving the air, and thus asbestos fibers around. What should/shouldnt I do at this point.

4) At this point I would like to just stop disturbing the tile and lay down my laminate flooring. However, 1/2 the room is still covered with tack strips and staples. Not sure how to proceed on this now. Do I finish removing the strips even though I know more tiles will be broken? I would bit the bullet and lay a new subfloor over the current one, except I dont know how to get around the tack strips that are currently there.

5) BTW, I never removed carpet before but was discusted by how much stuff was underneath the carpet and pad. It looked like sand and the floor was covered with this. The crazy thing is that was UNDER the this normal?

Any help/info on each of my questions would be appreciated.
posted by sirhensley to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"It looked like sand and the floor was covered with this. The crazy thing is that was UNDER the this normal?"

Yes. Carpets are filthy.
posted by Mitheral at 11:36 PM on September 1, 2008

The sand is probably the padding disintegrating.
posted by Maisie Jay at 12:05 AM on September 2, 2008

First, don't panic. Asbestos tiles pose very little risk, especially if they're intact, or mostly intact.
If you can't crumble it up with your hands alone, then it's generally considered safe for home owners to remove themselves. Basically, don't shred them to pieces (i.e. smash or saw them), and you'll be fine. Usually tiles only contain a couple of percent of asbestos, and it's not in a form that easily gives up fibres. It's long term or large exposure that's dangerous, somewhat like radiation. Very small doses do no particular harm. It wouldn't hurt to wash down the areas where you've removed tiles to damp down any remaining dust.

Any new floor you lay is only going to be as good as the old one underneath. I'd personally remove the entire asbestos tile layer too. You can do it yourself (depending upon state) or get an asbestos rated contractor. You'll feel happier knowing there's no longer asbestos under your feet.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:45 AM on September 2, 2008

We discovered some asbestos tile in our house as well, so I just wanted to mention one thing you didn't bring up. Now you know there is crumbling asbestos tile in the house, so if you go to sell the house, you may need to disclose that to potential buyers, depending on the rules where you live. Again, depending on where you live, it probably will not actually be considered a hazardous substance once you've put a new flooring layer on top - but that's not necessarily going to matter to buyers. Just knowing it's there may be a turn-off to buyers, and ultimately if it's enough of a problem you could wind up having to rip up the flooring, have the asbestos removed, and re-floor to get your place sold.

So you may want to consider whether to get the tile out now while you already have things ripped up, to avoid hassle later.
posted by Stacey at 4:06 AM on September 2, 2008

It looked like sand and the floor was covered with this. The crazy thing is that was UNDER the this normal?

askme votes totally normal!
posted by soma lkzx at 6:42 AM on September 2, 2008

I agree that removing it might be best for resale.

It wasn't vinyl, but my 3-story old house was covered in asbestos-slate tile, and the local government folks said I could remove it myself because little asbestos is released unless you break up the tile into tiny bits or cut it with a saw. They gave me these directions:

1. Wet it.
2. Remove it with minimal breakage while wearing a respirator with an asbestos filter.
3. Seal it in plastic bags.
4. Take it to the dump on Asbestos Tuesday (there was a special spot to put it in).

I also had cement board in a closet that I ripped out, then discovered had asbestos (I recognized the fibers from my work with the slate and had it tested). The asbestos guy said I should wipe down all nearby surfaces with a damp sponge, then paint the studs that were behind the board to seal any remaining fibers there. He didn't seem very concerned.

I had old linoleum flooring that didn't test positive for asbestos, but I'll mention my removal method because it resulted in very little breakage:

1. Gently warm a small area with a heat gun (warm, not melt).
2. Slide a scraper underneath. The tile should lift in one big chunk.
3. Repeat.
4. Damp-mop the exposed subfloor to get any dust.
posted by PatoPata at 7:09 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think I can remove about 80-90% of the tile fairly easily using a heat gun. However, what do I do about the 10% of the tile that is crubling or that shatters when I try to remove the tack strip? My assumption is that the heat gun would likely burn the tack strips while attempting to remove the tile.

What do I do?
posted by sirhensley at 9:21 AM on September 2, 2008

Your exposure is significant but short term. You should consult with a doctor about continued testing for mesothelioma or other asbestos related diseases - these may not affect you for 30 years then suddenly become apparent and terminal.

Most people with a serious asbestos related medical condition were exposed for a substantial period of time to varying amounts of material. But there are cases where even a short exposure to a significant amount of asbestos resulted in health problems. Don't panic, but do maintain testing and mention this exposure to your doctors.

As for your flooring situation, have a professional finish the removal / abatement of the remaining asbestos. Because you have disturbed the material removal and abatement is very likely the only reasonably option at this point - merely covering it will not prevent it from finding its way into your body or others in the house. If it were undisturbed some sort of covering may have been feasible, but it is rarely advisable and it only puts of the eventual complete removal process which becomes more expensive over time. Doing it yourself is possible, but rarely if ever worth the risk of such a harmful exposure. If you need to use a heatgun to remove portions of the tile you would likely be better off having a professional handle it - tough removal mean higher breakage and exposure levels.

Again, go to your doctor and get tested regularly from now on. Don't finish the project yourself, find someone with the proper equipment (Tyvek suits, major filtration equipment, adequate training, etc).

(I've worked with victims of asbestos exposure - it's a horrible material to deal with and the health consequences for you and those around your home could be serious - get it done right and quickly so everyone can stay a little safer).
posted by unclezeb at 10:41 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just my $0.02. My dad died about 18 months ago after battling mesothelioma for nearly five years. It was a horrid time and he fought like no other. We were never able to identify for certain his exposure, but we had it down to two scenarios: 1) His father worked as a porter in a train station for about four months when he was small, asbestos fibres could have come off the insulated walls and come home on him; 2) His office removed asbestos ceiling tiles over the course of two weeks and did not provide protection to workers.

Either way it was a short exposure and he ended up being cursed with a terrible illness.

If there is ANYTHING you can do to prevent the same outcome for yourself, do it. Hire a professional to remove the remaining asbestos. Please. You can figure it two ways - a high expense now, or a high expense later. One's in money, the other's in your health.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

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