Basement Project #4: Asbestos Abatement

Unfortunately our basement floor dropped 3 inches from one end of the basement to the other. It had a big dip at one point where there used to be a floor drain that had been capped off many years before. In the 60’s the previous homeowners remodeled our basement into a “wreck room” for their children and covered the floor with tile. Like most vinyl tiles of that era ours contained asbestos. Our tile was also chipped with some pieces loose or missing. It would have been great if I could just put a new floor over the old but that wasn’t possible. The asbestos tile had to be removed in order to tear out the old concrete floor and pour a new concrete floor.

Asbestos tile is not hazardous if it is in good shape and if left undisturbed. But tearing them up releases “friable” asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers are so tiny they can’t be seen but they are easily ingested into the lungs. They don’t immediately make you cough or feel sick. It can take 10-40 years to develop an incurable form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma or asbestosis.
Asbestos abatement can be really expensive—thousands of dollars. Although it’s probably best left to professionals, homeowners are allowed to do the abatement themselves. I visited the Minnesota Department of Health’s website to see how to do it safely.  It seemed doable.

Famous last words!

It turned out to be grueling work and much harder than I could ever have imagined. I allocated a couple of days but it took me a week.

Sealing the walls, ceiling and doors with plastic was easy enough.

But no amount of soaking with soapy water helped in removing the tiles. I pushed my body to the limit physically because I had to muscle and chip the tiles up with a 9” blade.  Each tile shattered into hundreds of pieces. It was hard to breathe through the mask and I got more than a little claustrophobic being in a sealed room.

When all the tiles were finally removed, I realized that the mastic (adhesive) was going to be even tougher to remove. (It too can contain asbesto fibers.) In tears, I got on the phone to see if there was some “product” I could use to remove the mastic. I didn’t want to use anything caustic. I was working down in a basement where there was no airflow because the windows were sealed off with plastic.

Knowing they carry many healthy products, I called Natural Built Home on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. Lo and behold they had something called Beano that is intended to soften the mastic. 

Wow, did it ever! It turned the mastic into a liquid. Soon I was walking in what felt like an inch of oil, but at least I didn’t have to scrape and chip any more. I used the bag of terry rags I had purchased on the recommendation of the Health Department to sop up the liquefied mastic.  
Disposal of asbestos is really important. It can’t be mixed in with other construction materials. I had to bag all the asbestos tiles and rags in plastic bags, enclose the bags in cardboard boxes and then wrap each box in plastic, wiping them down to make sure no asbestos fibers remained on the outside. The plastic covered walls and ceiling also needed to be washed down to remove any fibers. When the plastic was finally removed it too was discarded using the same process-- plastic bag, box, then plastic wrap. 

The whole kit and caboodle had to be hauled to a special dump. Homeowners are limited to just a few disposal sites for dumping hazardous materials. I drove my boxes to Vonco II in Becker, Minnesota, a trip that took about 3 hours round trip. Be sure to call first to make sure weather conditions are acceptable that day for dumping. The fee was about $60, money well spent.

I learned a lot of valuable information doing my own asbestos abatement – but I’ll never do it again!

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