There has been a lot of misinformation concerning asbestos over the years. Letâ€™s look at the facts:
(1) A very large percentage of homes in the bay area have asbestos in some form (ducting, flooring, â€˜popcornâ€™ ceiling texturing, siding, roofing shingles, cement, insulation, etc.). It has also been used extensively in commercial applications for years (such as hair dryers, automobile brake pads, pipe insulation, etc.).
(2) The real problems with asbestos products are not in residential applications; it is the manufacturing sector or the military. Most people with malignant mesothelioma (cancer resulting from exposure to airborne asbestos fibers) worked on jobs where they breathed airborne asbestos â€“ these were typically manufacturing jobs or jobs resulting in prolonged exposure such as those working in shipyards or, as example, on-board maintenance of WW2 era naval vessels. Extensive workplace environment guidelines and precautions are now in place to prevent the likelihood of malignant mesothelioma from occurring.
(3) As long as asbestos is left alone, it poses no significant problem. It becomes a problem once it is disturbed, such as during renovations.
(4) Scare tactics have been used in the past number of years, raising the specter that any asbestos in a home is bad and that it must be removed. This is simply not the case, and these tactics have been used by some companies trying to play off public ignorance for their own gain.
For more information, see: http://www.mesotheliomaweb.org
To specifically answer your question about the flooring: it is not an issue as long as it is not disturbed. For floor tiles, â€œdisturbedâ€ means â€œbreaking the tile in piecesâ€ â€“ the type of thing that would happen during a renovation. This also applies to ceiling â€œpopcornâ€, ducting and other applications. It is recommended that you use a professional asbestos abatement company to remove the product in question if it will be disturbed during a renovation.
MAKE SURE you get a number of bids from EPA certified contractors: costs can vary significantly from one company to another. Additionally, many general contractors now have asbestos removal certification along with a lead-based paint cert, etc. The least expensive route would be to locate a general contractor with this certification and have them include the abatement as a part of a larger project.
Otherwise, encapsulating the product is a totally acceptable means of protection. A layer of paint will encapsulate â€œpopcornâ€ and properly installed flooring over asbestos floor tiles should also be adequate. As for ducting, the general rule of thumb is â€œleave it aloneâ€ unless you plan to upgrade your heating system, etc.
You can also have an asbestos test done on the property in question â€“ they are typically very inexpensive and there are a number of companies in the bay area that perform the tests.