While some may believe that asbestos is a problem of the past, that is not the case. That realization came to a friend recently, whose condo was damaged in a high-rise fire. It was an early January morning when she was noisily awakened by a fire alarm. Though she saw no signs of a fire, she immediately exited the building. While the fire extensively damaged only one of the condos, many other owners experienced smoke and water damage.
Because there are multiple units involved, it was some time before property managers had lined up contractors to replace dry wall, paint interiors and replace the flooring. The first condo was scheduled for renovation. As renovation began, asbestos was discovered in the floor. In this case, the asbestos was found in the felt layer between the concrete and hardwood. Though only 5% asbestos was found, doctors report that there is no safe threshold of asbestos exposure. As far as we know, even short-term exposure can cause long-term health problems.
Let’s be clear.
While asbestos is no longer produced in the U.S., we continue to import some asbestos every year. And most old buildings are more likely to have asbestos in them. If asbestos is sealed properly and left undisturbed, asbestos doesn’t pose a danger to us. It’s the breathing of the fibers that is dangerous. For this reason, only when structures are damaged or when renovation or repair work is scheduled, does asbestos present a problem.
Asbestos is unveiled.
Now what? Back to my friend, whose flooring contained asbestos. Now that the discovery is made, renovation becomes a little more complicated. She will now move out for a period of time – probably a week or longer. First, her condo will be tested for asbestos. Since all of the condos were built by the same builder, in the same timeframe, it’s a pretty sure bet that her floor has asbestos fibers. Once tested, a team of licensed technicians will safely remove the asbestos. After the area is cleaned thoroughly, contractors will replace the flooring and polyurethane the surface.
Needless to say, my friend is bummed that she will have to move out. But she’s glad they are testing for asbestos and will remove it if found. The expectation is that the entire process, including the floor replacement and varnishing, will only take a week.
Over the last few months, my friend has learned a lot. She learned that houses or buildings built before 1970 are most at risk. There are also preventative measures for protection that can be helpful. Regularly cleaning your house with a wet rag or mop and using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to get rid of dust, helps.