Q: Help! My basement recently flooded for the third time, and we decided that it was finally time to remove the carpet down there instead of just drying it out. Well, we were sure surprised when the pros came in and started lifting up the carpet, only to let us know that what they found underneath was likely asbestos tile. Eek! So now what? I’ve got a basement without carpet covered in asbestos, albeit wet from the flood. Are we supposed to move out until we figure out what do with it? And what are we supposed to do with it, anyway?
A: That is not fun, and my sympathies to you for the loss of money and peace of mind over there. There have been so many torrential downpours across the U.S. this year, and it seems that even if you've never had water problems before — you do now. At least know you’re not alone.
So is the asbestos harmful? Well, yes and no. Those of you who watch daytime television know all too well the harm asbestos can cause, and that’s because there are a dozen law firms advertising about it. But not all asbestos is as harmful as you think.
Asbestos use dates back to Greece in the first century but became commonly used as insulation for pipes, boilers and refrigerators for the railroad and shipyard industry. It then became widely popular in the 20th century building industry as a fire-retardant insulation for homes and offices. By the early 1900s, people had already begun to see the effects of asbestos, especially in those who had worked with it long-term or who lived in the communities surrounding asbestos factories.
Particularly, friable asbestos (which means asbestos that is easily broken apart allowing fibers to get in the air) can cause numerous health risks, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Lucky for you, your basement was flooded, meaning that the asbestos tile is soaking wet, a great scenario for you because the fibers from the asbestos are not easily airborne. (But don't get me started on the dangers of mold and why mold prevention is so important — that's a whole other set of problems you should address.)
So what to do? The best thing to do is to have an asbestos expert come and take a look at the floor tiles. If he determines that everything is, in fact, intact and not crumbling or decaying, he may determine that the best course of action is to leave the asbestos tile in place and cover it with a new tile. As long as it is not friable, you’re in better shape.
If it is determined that the asbestos is friable and is necessary to remove, it’s generally better to let an asbestos-licensed contractor handle the job, though if you’d like to try it yourself, there are plenty of how-tos online from reliable sources. You’ll likely need to do it by hand and stay away from power tools, since tools could cause the tile to become even more friable. Be sure to dispose of it safely, including finding a landfill that accepts asbestos.
Best of luck to you in your asbestos removal endeavors, and I sincerely hope your flooding issues are resolved soon.