Asbestos flooring hazard levels:
What is the actual risk level from asphalt asbestos floor tiles, vinyl asbestos floor tiles, or asbestos-backed sheet flooring? How do we decide if asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring can be safely left in place (and covered-over) or if the material must be removed?
What do asbestos-containing floor tiles in poor condition look like?
This article summarizes the probable risk of asbestos exposure from asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring as depending on the condition, covering, and location of the floor.
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Asbestos is safe and legal to remain in homes or public buildings as long as the asbestos materials are in good condition and the asbestos can not be released into the air. - US EPA
The US EPA points out in Adequately Wet Guidance, EPA340/1-90-019 that asbestos-containing floor tiles are considered non-friable materials but the materials can become friable with age or by grinding, sanding, demolition, etc.
The risk of asbestos particle release and thus asbestos exposure from asbestos-containing flooring depends on several variables that we list here.
Flooring that contains asbestos, when intact and in good condition, is generally considered nonfriable and is not hazardous.
Heat, water, weathering or aging can weaken flooring to the point where it is considered friable. Friable flooring includes any material containing more than 1 percent asbestos that can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder with hand pressure.
This includes previously nonfriable flooring material which has been damaged to the extent that it may be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure. Flooring can also be made friable during its removal. Friable materials can release asbestos fibers into the air. Once in the air, asbestos fibers present a health hazard to people who inhale those fibers.
In addition to the page top photo of cracked loose asbestos-containing floor tiles, the reader below has sent additional examples of damaged asbestos floor tiles.
Even for these examples of damaged tile flooring we need to answer a few questions before determining that professional removal by an asbestos expert is necessary.
My wife and I recently ripped up a rug in our small breeze way and planned on putting down tile.
When I ripped up the rug I found that there was previously old tile, some of which was cracked and brittle.
Attached below are the pictures of the tile. Our house was built in the 1950's and I am concerned that the tile might contain asbestos.
The tiles are 9 x 9. Do these tiles contain asbestos? - M.D., Connecticut, USA, 26 Jul 2015
Congratulations on sending along some of the most smeared over and breaking up Armstrong vinyl asbestos (or possibly still older asphalt asbestos) floor tiles I've seen in a while.
It would be prudent to treat the flooring as "PACM" or "Presumed Asbestos Containing Material" as I am virtually certain they are.
That does not mean we should panic nor that in all cases we need to undertake an expensive and dangerous asbestos removal project.
Asbestos is safe and legal to remain in homes or public buildings as long as the asbestos materials are in good condition and the asbestos can not be released into the air.
Generally the safest approach is to leave such flooring alone and to cover it over with a coating or with another layer of flooring.
The Armstrong asphalt asbestos floor tiles shown at above-left are probably Armstrong's Osage Green (see ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR) and may be in good-enough condition that a floor can be installed overtop.
A quick catalog of green Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tiles is at
However the tiles in your photos shown earlier on this page and in another example shown just below look rather broken up, enough that some cleanup is probably necessary.
Watch out: the tile mastic in these older asbestos-tile flooring systems also may contain asbestos.
Don't let an unqualified contractor create a dusty demolition mess or the ultimate costs may increase by the need to clean other areas of your home where asbestos containing dust may have been transported.
ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION.
For a floor that is mostly securely glued down see ASBESTOS FLOORING LEFT IN PLACE. It is often the case that one can install a new layer of flooring atop the existing secure floor covering; if there are small uneven areas where tiles have been lost those may need to be filled in with a masonry leveling compound.
Other flooring systems such as floating clip-together laminate or engineered wood floors are easily installed atop a rosin paper layer placed over the older floor.
For an asbestos tile or sheet floor that is is so badly uneven and broken up or loose (such as the water-damaged floor above) that you cannot seal and floor-over it, then see
ASBESTOS FLOORING REMOVAL GUIDE
Watch out: Meanwhile do not run a vacuum there unless it's HEPA rated as you may increase the hazard of airborne dust that might contain asbestos.
IF you want to have flooring a sample tested see ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST and
if you need help collecting a flooring test sample see ASBESTOS SAMPLE COLLECTION.
We would much appreciate hearing any comments, critique, suggestions, or further questions that you may have after you've taken a look at the articles I've cited.
Details about asbestos-flooring product removal are
at ASBESTOS FLOORING REMOVAL GUIDE; excerpts are below.
The green Armstrong asphalt asbestos floor tiles shown at left are located in a business in Two Harbors Minnesota and are in poor condition.
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This sheet flooring covering backed with burlap fabric is probably more than a century old.
The material has not been tested for asbestos fibers, but where we see what is obviously a jute backing it's not likely that the product contained asbestos..
The possible origin of this product is discussed at
ASPHALT & VINYL FLOOR TILE HISTORY - history, dates, and description of the production process and ingredients in asphalt floor tiles, asphalt-asbestos floor tiles, & vinyl-asbestos floor tiles 1900 to present.
Asbestos-containing flooring was sold in both individual floor tiles and in rolls of sheet flooring. But just as with vinyl or plastic floor tiles, not all flooring contains asbestos. LINOLEUM & Other Sheet Flooring includes examples of sheet flooring that often did not contain asbestos.
To treat floor coverings in asphalt-based floor tiles or sheet flooring, or vinyl (plastic)-based floor tiles or sheet flooring, it is reasonable to treat flooring sold even into the early 1980's as PACM (Presumed Asbestos Containing Material). Also the mastic or adhesive used to install flooring may also contain asbestos. Keep in mind also that very often it is not necessary nor even recommended to remove PACM floor coverings. But if conditions require that it be removed,
see ASBESTOS REMOVAL GUIDE, FLOORING.
The following advice for disposal of vinyl-asbestos or asphalt asbestos floor tiles is adapted from the Minnesota State Department of Health:
State health departments typically recommend that all asbestos debris and waste is disposed of in a landfill that accepts asbestos-containing waste. There are three methods of disposing of asbestos waste and they are:
Watch out: if you are disposing of asbestos-containing waste yourself, you should contact your local state health department for detailed instructions.
For example, while a landfill may accept asbestos-containing-material (ACM) (as the material may be buried and thence non-hazardous, special requirements may apply to protect workers and buildings from asbestos dust during collection, bagging, removal, and transportation.
- Ref: MN DPH
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Hi. I have a question about asbestos in floor tile and its removal. I work at a public school and the school had a contractor come in to remove some flooring that was starting to "buckle up" in some areas due to water seeping underneath it. When the contractor came I happened to be around and I asked him before he started if the tile could be asbestos (the school was built in 1952). He looked at it and said it wasn't 9x9 inch, and he wasn't sure what was underneath it yet, so he couldn't say for sure. When I started at the school I was made aware by my boss that there is asbestos tile underneath the carpet in the classrooms, but he didn't mention the hallways, where this work was going to be done.
I kept a watch on the contractors as they were removing the tile flooring, (I stayed a safe distance from them...like outside the building through a window). I noticed they used no masks and there was no plastic barriers put up inside the building. They were breaking the tile up though because I noticed them shoveling it up and putting it in the big 55 gallon plastic barrels used for garbage. They stayed for about 2 days doing this. When they were done they left these filled barrels of the tile for us to dump! I didn't want to be involved at all in their dumping! My boss came though and he said he needed my help in dumping the barrels in the outside container for garbage. I REALLY wanted nothing to do with this and I panicked inside. I was afraid though to ask about its safety. When we went outside to dump them I kept my distance as much as possible.
When we dumped the first barrel I held my breath and we dumped it quickly and a HUGE bunch of dust went into the air. I stepped far away and let the dust clear. I then asked if he had any kind of face mask. He did, but only the N95 kind. I put two on and some goggles. We then dumped the rest. My question is, what are the chances that the flooring contained asbestos, and if it did, wouldn't the contractor and our head supervisor that ordered the work know about the flooring? - Mike 8/22/11
No one can say just from text whether or not the floor tile that was taken up contained asbestos, though the lack of dust control and personal protection sounds to me like an amateur was doing the job. Even non-asbestos-containing dust can be hazardous, especially at acute exposure levels.
From the age of the school (1952) some asbestos containing materials would be expected to be present in lots of items, especially floor tiles. And the contractor's assertion that only 9" floor tiles contain asbestos is incorrect.
- ask your doctor for an opinion about your health and exposure to demolition dust that might have contained asbestos and any respiratory health complaints you may have
- if there is remaining dust or remaining examples of the same flooring they can be tested for asbestos
- building management can make be sure all of the demolition dust has been properly cleaned and removed - if it's asbestos-containing, a higher level of cleaning and post-cleanup testing are needed.
- Don't do more demolition without a competent risk assessment
And for your question of whether or not the contractor would or would not know if the floor contained asbestos?
My OPINION (not a lawyer) is that the contractor is legally obligated to be competent to perform the work for which s/he is hired; at a school, and removing flooring, that should include the ability to recognize a "red flag" that would stop the job until an asbestos hazard assessment has been made by a professional.
Faced with very high costs of an asbestos cleanup, and worried about causing a (perhaps inappropriate) panic among parents of school children, building managers I've met have sometimes opted for an "ignorance is bliss" argument. At a large Jewish Community Center in New York where it was patently obvious that there was asbestos-containing pipe insulation and flooring, the building management showed me a "report" asserting that the building was "asbestos free". The report authors simply stayed out of building areas where asbestos found.
I was pulling up some carpet in my basement today and found that there is tile on the floor beneath it. That didn't seem like a problem to me except in one corner the tile came up with the carpet and there is a green tile beneath that. The house was built in 1950. should I be concerned that the green tile has asbesto in it?
The tile broke into pieces. - Don Mac 9/5/11
Don from the age of materials you describe it's a good chance you have one or more layers of asbestos containing floor tiles, though of course I can only speculate with so little information.
However if the floor is covered with additional layers of tile or even carpeting, it's unlikely that it is being disturbed enough to produce a detectable level of asbestos (from that source) in the building air or dust.
A single piece or two of broken tiles are not measurable; what you want to avoid is demolition making a big dusty mess.
Search our site for "How to Reduce the Hazard Floor Tiles That May Contain Asbestos" or "ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION" to read about procedures for handling the flooring.
I purchased a co-op built in the 1950's. I need to put down a new floor. The last layer of flooring is green 9x9 vinyl tiles. The pattern looks close to seneca white but the background is light green with dark green pattern. There is black tarry stuff underneath. The tiles are extremely thin. I ripped out the tiles and the plywood underneath them in the corner about 18" square. The super told me to leave it alone as it might be asbestos, but all the contractors who have seen them, seem not to be worried about ripping up the tiles. I would feel better to play it safe and just floor over them. How do I e-mail a picture to you? - Jeanie in Queens NY 11/13/2011
I have a early 60's home with both bathrooms having what appears to be a solid surface material poured over a greenish felt. The flooring is tan with colored flecks in it throughout. I have looked for the material but haven't found any info. Does anyone know what it is? Is it possible that this material contains asbestos? - Dan 1/10/12
the tile in the place I work appears to be asbestos tile. there are some squares that are damaged, and appear to be chipped out. there are small particles, chunks, etc. in the place where the tiles are missing. is this a danger to us? - Lynn 1/12/12
I want to renovate this ranch soon and am not sure what the tile is and who do I call? I want to renovate this ranch soon and am not sure what the tile is and who do I call?Ceiling tile is from 1940 - Jo 2/7/2012
I have an old ranch home w/ sheet lino.x2 layers, over OSB board, over another type of flooring over old hardwood. From what I can see so far. The hardwood has blunt square ends, and is about 3-4" wide and appears to have paint on it. I know there is some rot in that area and would need replacing from reclaimed wood. My question is what is the best way to remove all the lino and OSB and floor below that to get to the hardwood? I know it's going to be labor intensive but not sure how to go about it. - Tracey 2/13/2012
Utility room floor installed 1971 is Armstrong Excelon vinyl asbestos place and press tiles. Some of the tiles are loose. they are whole..just loose. Please recommend what glue to use to re-install them. - Anne 2/13/2012
I work at a Petland Discounts location that's over 20 years old. I've gotten severe breathing problems at this store. The floor polishing company comes in and polishes the floor every month and there is this thick dust in the air and then it gets all over the products. I am concerned that it contains asbestos. There are also many broken tiles in the store. - Despina 5/22/2012
In my kitchen we have a sub floor, then asbestos tiles, then another sub floor and then a layer of linoleum flooring down. We want to lay another floor down but our floor is already up an inch with everything on it. We want to removed the whole flooring but have no clue how we should go about doing this without getting the asbestos in the air. It is also laid in our hallway and our whole basement. Thank you so much for any help you can provide. - Gigi - 6/11/2012
I was going to put new ceramic tiles in the kitchen floor, but when I removed the transition between the wood floor and ceramic tiles I saw vinyl tiles under the kitchen floor. My question is how I would know that the vinyl tiles are asbestos or not? - Mike 7/10/2012
i removed floor tiles by hand that look very similar to some of the ones you have pictured on your web site about 9 years ago. basically i used an old grill spatula to peel them up off of the cement floor. i did use a dust mask but i was unaware at the time that some older floor tiles contain asbestos. do i have anything to worry about? - Joe 8/1/2012
Hello I scraped up a tile floor in my house and I now fear that it was asbestos. The backing is black not white. It did not grind to dust, but it came off in pieces. The floor is covered in the black backing still and I don't know how I should remove this. Should I be concerned about removing this part? Also I suspect these tiles continue into another room under a rug. I would like to remove them eventually if possible. What do you recommend? - Mandy 10/29/2012
My husband and his family were doing some remodeling on a home we just bought (built in the 1930's). When I stopped by the house i saw that they had ripped out the old flooring in the kitchen and bathroom. Underneath the old carpet and flooring were 9x9 squares that were on top of the original hardwoods. I freaked out because i remembered hearing something about 9x9 tiles and asbestos on hgtv. These squares are black, but they are flexible, almost like a thick paper or a cardboard rather than a hard tile. We aren't sure if it is just some sort of backing, or an asphalt asbestos tile. They had already spent the weekend tearing most of it up and it is all over the place right now. any info/suggestions etc would be very greatly appreciated. - Jennifer 10/29/2012
Asbestos-containing flooring in good condition does not have to be removed from a building, and worse, inept removal can create a much greater hazard than leaving most asbestos materials in place.
Asbestos was widely used as a filler in both asphalt-based and some vinyl based floor tiles of varying thicknesses, and extending to some thin, flexible self-adhesive backed tiles as well as some sheet flooring.
See ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR for an extensive photo guide to asbestos-containing flooring materials.
We recommend taking a look at the suggestions found at ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION
Comment from reader: anonymous:
Hey Joe there's always a "risk" when removing anything that has to do with Asbestos. I understand that you probably didn't take caution at all with the removal and you probably weren't wearing the proper protection. There's two things that could be red flags. 1. I'd be worried if you were a constant to heavy smoker. 2. I'd also be worried if you've done this type of removal many times before or after without protection. The only way to know for certain if true damage has been done is tell your Doctor or care provider about this incident and ask for their advice.
Questions & answers or comments about how to identify asbestos-containing flooring materials and what to do when asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring are found in a building.
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Periodic Visual Re inspections and Air Monitoring
A visual re inspection of all ACM should be conducted at regular intervals as part of the O&M program to help ensure that any ACM damage or deterioration will be detected and corrective action taken.
EPA's asbestos regulations for schools (the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, "AHERA") (PDF) (96 pp, 589k), web search 08/17/2010, original source: http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/2003pt763.pdf, require that an accredited inspector re inspect school buildings at least once every three years to reassess the condition of ACM.
The AHERA regulations for schools also require a routine surveillance check of ACM every six months to monitor the ACM's condition. This surveillance can be conducted by a trained school custodian or maintenance worker.
While only school buildings are required to have surveillance checks every six months, it is a good practice for other buildings with ACM. The asbestos program manager (APM) should establish appropriate surveillance and re inspection intervals, based on consultation with the building owner and any other qualified professionals involved in the O&M program.
EPA recommends a visual and physical evaluation of ACM during the re inspections to note the ACM's current condition and physical characteristics. Through this re inspection, it is possible to determine both the relative degree of damage and assess the likelihood of future fiber release.
Maintenance of a set of visual records (photos or video) of the ACM over time can be of great value during re inspections
EPA recommends a visual and physical evaluation of ACM during the re inspections to note the ACM's current condition and physical characteristics.
Additional Prevention Measures
If the ACM is currently in good condition, increases in airborne asbestos fiber levels at some later time may provide an early warning of deterioration or disturbance of the material. In that way, supplemental air monitoring can be a useful management tool. If an owner chooses to use air monitoring in an "early warning" context, a knowledgeable and experienced individual should be consulted to design a proper sampling strategy. (See Useful Links for more information on air monitoring.)
This air monitoring should supplement, not replace, physical and visual inspection. Visual inspection can recognize situations and anticipate future exposure (e.g., worsening water damage), whereas air monitoring can only detect a problem after it has occurred, and fibers have been released.
Note that the collection of air samples for supplementary evaluation should not use aggressive air sampling methods. Aggressive sampling methods, in which air is deliberately disturbed or agitated by use of a leaf blower or fans, should only be used at the completion of an asbestos removal project inside the abatement containment area.
The most accurate and preferred method of analysis of air samples collected under an O&M program requires the use of transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Phase contrast microscopy (PCM), which is commonly used for personal air sample analysis and as a screening tool for area air monitoring, cannot distinguish between asbestos fibers and other kinds of fibers which may be present in the air. PCM analysis also cannot detect thin asbestos fibers, and does not count short fibers. TEM analysis is more expensive than PCM analysis. However, the more accurate information on actual levels of airborne asbestos fibers that can be derived from TEM should be more beneficial to the building owner who elects to use supplemental air monitoring in the asbestos management program. TEM analysis is most reliably performed by laboratories accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and who follow EPA’s quality assurance guidelines. (See References, U.S. EPA, Dec. 1989, Transmission Electron Microscopy Asbestos Laboratories: Quality Assurance Guidelines. Washington, DC: EPA 560/5-90-002).
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