Home / Articles / Features / Earth Talk / Asbestos flooring
Print this Article
Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008 06:43 pm

Asbestos flooring

An entire industry now specializes in the safe removal of asbestos

Untitled Document
An entire industry now specializes in the safe removal of asbestos.

How does one safely remove old vinyl flooring that contains asbestos — and what are some green alternatives?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be used in a variety of industrial applications because of its strong flexible fibers, its resistance to heat and chemicals, and the fact that it does not conduct electricity. From the late 1800s through the 1970s, asbestos was used extensively in the United States and elsewhere in everything from pipes and insulation to siding and flooring, including vinyl tiles. The problem with asbestos is that its microscopic fibers can become airborne when materials containing it get worn out, damaged, or disturbed. Inhaling these airborne fibers can lead to a variety of health problems, such as asbestosis (a chronic lung ailment that can produce shortness of breath and permanent lung damage) and a variety of cancers, including those of the lung, larynx, and gastrointestinal tract. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectively banned asbestos in 1989. (The ban was later overturned in federal court as a result of pressure from mining and construction interests, but the damage to the substance’s reputation was too formidable for industry to start using it widely again.) Today the only money to be made from asbestos is in the business of getting rid of it, and an entire industry specializing in the safe removal of asbestos from both commercial and residential buildings has sprung up. The EPA recommends that homeowners who want to remove asbestos-containing materials from their residences hire a licensed contractor to do the dirty work so as not to compromise family or personal health. The EPA maintains an online listing of asbestos-removal specialists across the country, and homeowners can also look in their local Yellow Pages under “asbestos abatement” or “asbestos removal” to find local contractors qualified to remove and dispose of the stuff safely and completely. Hiring such a firm can cost thousands of dollars, so many do-it-yourselfers still take it upon themselves to remove worn asbestos-containing materials (tiles, siding, etc.) from their own homes. Anyone willing to undertake such risks should make sure to get a respirator and other safety equipment to protect them against airborne asbestos particles and should seal off work areas so the carcinogenic dust does not spread into other areas of the building. The Flooring Lady Web site is chockfull of details on how to minimize risks and includes strong reminders that such a task is not for the risk-averse.
As for what to replace those worn vinyl tiles with, many greener choices abound. Bamboo, cork, linoleum, and sustainably harvested or reclaimed wood are all environmentally sound and widely available flooring options. Some of these products are available at the big-box home-improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, but better selections can be found at online green building-supply stores like Ecohaus, Green Building Supply and GreenFloors.
For more information: EPA information on asbestos and vermiculite, www.epa.gov/asbestos; The Flooring Lady, www.theflooringlady.com; Ecohaus, www.ecohaus.com; Green Building Supply, www.greenbuildingsupply.com; GreenFloors, www.greenfloors.com.
Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
Log in to use your Facebook account with

Login With Facebook Account

Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes


  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed


Saturday May 26th