Eco-Tip for 9-1-19
Waste Reduction or Management for Asbestos in Flooring
By David Goldstein, VC PWA, IWMD
Asbestos is scary because, as the American Cancer Society reports on their web site, “…there is no clear safe level of exposure.” As noted on the US EPA we site, the three “health effects associated with asbestos exposure” are lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a non-cancerous but progressive, long-term lung disease resulting in breathing problems. Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, can begin not only in the lungs, but also the linings of the chest, abdomen, or heart.
Of course, as further noted by the EPA, “The greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects,” but even a low risk of a life-threatening disease can be cause for concern, and asbestos is present in a wide variety of older building materials.
In general, asbestos in building materials does not pose a threat in your home unless it is disturbed. In fact, the American Cancer Society web site states, “There is no health risk if the asbestos is bonded into intact finished products… as long as the material is not damaged or disturbed… (by activities such as) drilling or remodeling.”
However, recent events in Ventura County are leading to a flurry of debris removal and home improvement projects, creating many opportunities for these disturbances to send asbestos fibers airborne. People nearby can accidentally inhale the thin fibers.
Replacement of flooring is one common way homeowners come across a potential asbestos exposure problem. According to Asbestos.com, the online portal of patient advocacy organization The Mesothelioma Center, vinyl flooring and wallpaper used in construction before 1980 often contains asbestos.
Adhesives for these and other building materials also may contain asbestos. The US EPA website lists 18 products in which asbestos is still not banned, and 10 of these are building materials. Cutting, sanding, removing, or cleaning the dust or ash of asbestos containing products can expose people to carcinogenic fibers.
Asbestos items should be removed only by a licensed abatement professional, and this can be expensive, so homeowners often want to test materials before accepting the added expense of treating discards with the highest levels of caution.
Some asbestos testing kits, such as the $12.99 kit available at Ace Hardware stores, appear to be inexpensive. However, these are just for collection of samples to be mailed to labs. The small print on the front of the kit’s packaging shows there is an additional $40 lab charge required for mailing results, which are available four to seven business days after samples are received by the lab.
Working with a local test company offers a benefit not available by mail-in offers, according to Nate Seward, who has owned Criterion Environmental of Ventura since 2002. When a local company like Criterion collects the sample and conducts the test, their certification includes “third party neutrality,” which Seward says can be crucial for real estate transactions and other cases where a future occupant wants reassurance. Results are generally available within 24 hours.
With flooring, sometimes the best course of action is to lay a new floor directly on top of a suspected asbestos-containing floor, rather than removing the old floor. The main challenge to this approach is ensuring floor levels are not too high for inward swinging doors. Another potential drawback is the possibility of a future occupant of the home not suspecting asbestos- containing materials under a newer floor.
Ron Humes, who worked for 10 years as an environmental consultant and 20 years as a Real Estate Broker, had experience with asbestos in both roles. Now, in his role as Vice President of Operations for Post Modern Marketing, he devotes time on a pro-bono basis to outreach on the topic, warning people who “have no idea how common it is to be in a room with asbestos” and do not realize exposure has “no warning signs and… is completely undetectable by our senses.”