Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Death By Asbestos

I know everyone is going to die sooner or later but am I going to kick the can "sooner" by trying to refinish old floors in this old church house?

I've learned a lot about old floors lately. Evidently you're not supposed to sand floors that have had asbestos tiles on them. I knew underneath these ugly old tiles was the original old floors and I wanted so badly to be able to pull them all off and sand the old wood back down to its original glory. Here's what we did:

Luckily, we just experimented on a small section....the new bathroom. We pulled up the first layer of tile, and cut out the layer of plywood that was underneath as seen below........

Underneath the layer of plywood was another layer of tile that was stuck down with this black tar adhesive........

It really wasn't that hard....it came up fairly easily with the right tools. Here's a close up of the black wood floors...you can start to see the lines of the wood floor........

Here, everything is cleaned up (including 1000 staples!) and all we need to do is take up that black stuff....but how? Here's where my life expectancy is shortened by who knows how many years. Any asbestos experts out there? Give it to me straight....how long do I have?

I sanded for about 5 minutes (yes, blowing dry particles out in the air and into my lungs) before I realized it was a futile endeavor. The sand paper quickly gummed up and I was getting nowhere. I decided to try the same adhesive remover we've used on previous projects and it worked pretty well. And yes, I sanded a little more.

I realized though that this would be a huge extensive project and there just had to be a better way. I got on the internet and did some research. I read about a few projects that matched exactly what we were up against and everything I read basically said the same thing...that the tiles and tar adhesive they used back in the 60's or 70's had asbestos and "WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT SAND"!

I ended up calling this company that has a heavy duty adhesive remover and cleaner for just this kind of stuff. I had a couple of questions so I talked to a guy who said some things that really stuck out in my mind. Things to the effect of (again).....


And "it's not a matter of IF the asbestos causes cancer....it DOES".

He told me of contractors coming in to do a project like mine and finding what we have, then walking off the job until an abatement company comes all dressed in their protective suits and gas masks (or whatever)....think of the movie E.T.

Great. I just felt sick. The guy also said it's almost impossible to get ALL of the black off anyway. And then that black will keep seeping up and staining the floor too.


So our solution? Just cover the whole dang thing up with heavy duty plastic and put new pine floors in........


  1. Steph! Don't breathe! How frightening. Glad you researched before you continued. Love your remedy. You guys are awesome. Love, Aunt Sue

  2. I'm researching the asbestos thing now too. Thin is, it's not just the floor tiles. They used it in everything. You need to have your walls tested too (drywall, joint compound, tape, plaster too I guess). Anything you are demo'ing needs to be tested. Roofing, flooring, walls, insulation, the works all could have asbestos in them. Above that, any construction dust is a killer. Silica is deadly. You need to use the same precautions to protect your lungs and health when working with any of these materials that can make it into your system by becoming airborn or absorbed or ingested.

  3. The black mastic under the old vinyl type floor tile just came back clear, along with most everything else. I expected that to be the one. What did turn up with asbestos was the compound used on the drywall! I had no idea about that possibility until the other day. 4%-5% chrysotile. Bastards. They knew. I'm history.

    The house is only 1973.

  4. btw, I spoke with the geologist who did the testing and he said that the concentration and low exposure level would unlikely be a health concern for me. It's best to be cautious, wear a hepa, etc with any of these materials, not just asbestos, but the exposure to asbestos containing joint compound from this situation is not something to get too upset over. I was probably exposed prior to this just day to day already in our environment anyway.

    I still would have liked to have known to be more careful. I'm not sure how I learned of the black mastic but have never heard all the other products contain it.


  5. One of the most important things to know about asbestos is FRIABLE and NON-FRIABLE. Friable means the material can be easily crumbled and, or pulverized into a powder like substance. Examples being insulation, insulation wrapping, and papers ect. Friable asbestos is the stuff that can be taken into the body in concentrated levels without even knowing it, because the asbestos fibers can become freed and are incredibly airborne, and yes can kill you in a few different miserable ways. Friable asbestos should be left to the experts! Now non-friable asbestos is found in materials such as floor tiles and mastic which is the black stuff you encountered. The fibers found in non friable are almost always fixed within whatever materials via compounds of sorts that make up the material. Sounds like you heard it a few times but i'll tell you again yes never sand on any asbestos material, sorry. Non-friable is immensely safer but I couldnt tell you how much or if at all is legal to disturb without certification. It's hard to say if you in-took enough to be harmful it depends on so many variables of the sanding operation and environment. If possible I would talk to a doc and get an x-ray before getting to worked up. I'm no expert but I am asbestos certified and have learned the basics. I would also recommend in investing into becoming certified. It's valuable information and can give you peace of mind. Hope it helps.