Vinyl asbestos tile kitchen floor (C) Daniel FriedmanHow to Seal Asbestos Floor Tiles to Leave In Place
Coverups Can Reduce the Hazard of Floor Tiles That May Contain Asbestos
     


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Strategies for leaving asbestos-containing floor tiles or sheet flooring safely in place in a building:

Choosing an appropriate material to cover-up or coat the surface of a sound, well-adhered floor can protect against future damage or asbestos particle release in the building.

This article series assists building buyers, owners or occupants in reducing the risk of asbestos exposure from flooring that contains or is suspected to contain asbestos. We provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings. Page top photo: vinyl asbestos floor tiles in the kitchen of a 1970's home - before covering over with epoxy floor paint.

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How to Safely Leave Asbestos-Containing Floor Tiles in Place

Floor surface re-covered with ceramic tile (C) Daniel FriedmanAdvice About Covering or Sealing Asbestos Floor Tiles

The most economical renovation procedure for asbestos-floor tiles would be to leave the tiles in place, picking up any very loose scraps for enclosure in plastic bags for disposal (your municipality may permit disposal as construction debris, or you may have to hand it over to an approved waste hauler - double-bagged it should not be an issue), followed by installing a new layer of flooring over the existing material.

Photo at left: ceramic tile installed directly over asphalt-asbestos floor tile in a 1970's home. [Click to enlarge any image]

  • The age of your floor means it is asbestos suspect
  • Asbestos was very commonly used in vinyl and asphalt based floor tiles in the 1960's.
  • Asbestos is an airborne particle hazard, not like something that "emits" a hazard such as radioactive materials. So if the material is sound, intact, undisturbed, the risk of particle release is very low.
  • You can reduce the hazard from asbestos-containing floor tiles by several measures we list here and by other suggestions in government documents and references we cite in our online articles on this topic.
    • Leave in place & seal: In residential applications if the flooring is in good condition you can gently clean, restore, and coat the flooring with an epoxy paint or with a clear restorative coating. Below we illustrate this procedure using epoxy floor paint.
    • You can simply cover the suspect flooring with a new material: -- wall to wall carpeting -- vinyl or sheet resilient flooring -- new layer of resilient tile flooring -- a wooden subfloor and new resilient tile flooring. At above left we illustrate this result: ceramic tiles have been installed atop the original floor covering.
    • If your new floor is to be tile placed on top of old asbestos tile flooring, you might need to use a floor filler over openings left where broken tiles were removed, so that the floor surface below the new flooring is adequately smooth.
    • If the floor structure is sufficiently rigid so as to avoid flexing and cracking, ceramic tile can also be installed over an appropriate subfloor layer
    • If the floor surface is in good condition (no loose, broken tiles) and is in a residential area (not a school or public space) and not subject to heavy wear or use of mechanical grinders, buffers, etc., you might consider cleaning the floor surface (washing), painting it with an epoxy floor paint, and if/when the epoxy painted surface is scuffed, restore that surface with a floor cleaning and rejuvenation product that adds additional clear coat layers.
    • Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner when cleaning up housedust as that type of filter will capture most ultra small particles including asbestos dust if such is even present
    • Do not use floor sanders, power or machine driven floor polishers on asbestos-suspect flooring
  • Do not permit demolition of the floor without taking appropriate asbestos-dust control measures

Reader Question: What are the options for covering asbestos-suspect floor tiles or sheet flooring?

Vinyl asbestos floor tile identification photo U.S. Library of Congress

We are renovating a small bathroom that has resilient flooring of uncertain age, but from the style we think the floor tiles are from the 70s. We want to cover this floor tile to avoid an asbestos hazard. What are some options. - Anon.

Reply:

Remember that the hazard from asbestos-containing floor tiles is not like something that's "radioactive" - if the flooring is not damaged, if you avoid making a dusty mess by demolition, and more, if it the flooring can be covered and protected from damage, it is not harmful if left in place.

Current best asbestos advice is to avoid the dust and mess of demolition of vinyl asbestos flooring if you can simply cover it with another material.

Examples of asbestos floor tile or sheet flooring cover-ups that can work

  • Carpeting (we don't recommend wall to wall carpets in basements nor in bathrooms)
  • A new layer of resilient flooring, sheet or tiles, installed directly over the existing floor covering (typically using mastic) provided the current floor surface is smooth and sound
  • A new layer of resilient flooring, sheet or tiles, installed over hardboard or other solid underlayment that is placed over the existing floor covering and secured by nails or screws to framing below in order to provide a smooth leveling surface.
  • A new layer of resilient flooring, sheet or tiles, installed over a pour-on leveling compound (a concrete mix) used to level uneven floors (most suitable for concrete slab floors, may not be recommended over a wood framed-floor that is not framed solidly enough to resist flexing as the concrete pour-on underlayment may crack)
  • A layer of epoxy floor paint and one or more layers of clear coat sealant. This step is described below - in this article.
  • Coating good condition asbestos floor tiles with a rejuvenating sealant or gloss topcoat. This approach is discussed and illustrated just below.

Watch out: We do not recommend installing ceramic tile over a wood-framed floor before you have checked the flexibility of the floor system, in particular if the floor framing covers a larger span, say a dining room, or an area of heavy usage, say an entry hallway. The worry is that flexing floor framing may cause cracks in the ceramic tile job. Usually the floor can be stiffened sufficiently to avoid cracking either by reinforcing framing from below or by adding a layer of stiff underlayment.

Watch out: when adding a new layer of floor covering that requires underlayment or leveling compound, the increase in floor height where it abuts adjacent flooring of other rooms can create a trip hazard.

Advice for Coating or Painting Over Asphalt Asbestos Flooring or Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles Using Epoxy Paint and/or a Rejuvenation Sealer or Gloss Coat

Our photographs below demonstrate the use of an epoxy floor paint to provide a durable and safe coating for a vinyl-asbestos tile kitchen floor that was otherwise in good condition. The original floor (below left), installed when the home was built in the 1970's, was cleaned to provide a good bond for the epoxy floor paint. No sanding, ginding, or other dust-producing methods were used.

Vinyl asbestos tile kitchen floor (C) Daniel Friedman Vinyl asbestos tile kitchen floor (C) Daniel Friedman

For periodic maintenance, the black epoxy floor is cleaned and re-sealed (above right) using the floor rejuvenation products shown below. The original expoxy paint coating was made in 2000; the photo at above right shows the condition of the floor around 2015, more than a decade later.

Floor rejuvenator cleaner (C) D Friedman

Reader Question: how can I seal vinyl asbestos floor tiles so that I can leave the flooring in place?

I am looking for information on Armstrong diecut inserts from around 1952. Also are there any recommended ways to seal these floors so you can enjoy the look but without any asbestos concerns? Thanks, Sarah

[This Q&A originally appeared at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR, June 2011.

Reply: residential vinyl-asbestos floor tiles in good condition can be gently cleaned and clear-coated or sealed - vinyl tile floor restoration

As we noted in quoting the US EPA and other sources,

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.

About sealing vinyl-asbestos tile floors, especially in residential use where school or public regulations and public access worries don't apply, I've had great success using epoxy paints but you may find a shorter-term less durable but safe coating using clear-coating floor restorer products. You will need to repeat the coating from time to time.

We did this recently in a New York home.


Floor rejuvenator cleaner (C) D Friedman
  • The floor was washed with mild detergent and water.
  • Then we used a spray cleaner recommended by the floor restorer manufacturer. The spray cleaner removes old wax residues. See our photo of Rejuvenate™ floor cleaner (above left).
  • Next we used a magic marker to color in some gouges that had marred the floor surface.
  • Finally we coated the flooring with the floor restorer product. The floor looked new, and great. See our photo of Rejuvenate™ floor clearcoat sealant (at left).

    In sum, provided that your floor tile is not damaged and remains soundly glued in place, in residential use it may be fine to seal its surface and leave it alone.

if you maintain a hard clear coating on top of the floor surface you won't be releasing any measurable level of asbestos fibers by normal foot traffic.

Watch out: We advise against using any power equipment such as sanders, grinders, saws, or even steel-wool buffers on vinyl-asbestos flooring out of concern for the effect of grinding of the surface and concomitant release of asbestos particles into the building air.

Reader Question: Armstrong asbestos floor tile diecut inserts from around 1952 - ways to seal these floors?

Am looking for information on Armstrong diecut inserts from around 1952. Also are there any recommended ways to seal these floors so you can enjoy the look but without any asbestos concerns? Thanks, Sarah - Sarah 6/23/11

Reply: gentle cleaning followed by floor restorer clear coating protects from asbestos fiber release

Sarah:

Our photos show examples of some of the diecut flooring inserts from the 1950's; I'm not sure what other information you seek.

About sealing vinyl-asbestos tile floors, especially in residential use where school or public regulations and public access worries don't apply, I've had great success using clear-coating floor restorer products.

We just did this recently in a New York home. The floor was washed with mild detergent and water. Then we used a spray cleaner recommended by the floor resetorer manufacturer.

The spray cleaner removes old wax residues. Next we used a magic marker to color in some gouges that had marred the floor surface. Finally we coated the flooring with the floor restorer product. The floor looked new, and great.

In sum, if you maintain a hard clear coating on top of the floor surface you won't be releasing any measurable level of asbestos fibers by normal foot traffic.

Also see ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION for more ways to reduce the asbestos hazard in asbestos-suspect or presumed asbestos-containing flooring.

Managing Asbestos in Place in buildings

Quoting below from the following U.S. EPA references includes some advice on managing asbestos in place in buildings:

  • EPA Guidance for Controlling Asbestos-Containing Materials in buildings, NIAST, National Institute on Abatement Sciences & Technology, [republishing EPA public documents] 1985 ed., Exposure Evaluation Division, Office of Toxic Substances, Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington,D.C. 20460
  • Managing Asbestos in Place: A Building Owner's Guide to Operations and Maintenance Programs ("Green Book"), web search 08/11/2010, original source: http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/management_in_place.html
    How to Develop and Maintain a Building Asbestos Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Program, This information is designed to assist building owners and managers in understanding how to develop and maintain an operations and maintenance program for asbestos-containing materials in their buildings.
  • Monitoring Asbestos-Containing Material (ACM), U.S. EPA, web search 08/11/2010, original source: http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/section6.html, quoting:

    Periodic Visual Reinspections and Air Monitoring for Asbestos Hazards

    A visual reinspection 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 reinspect 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 reinspection 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 reinspections to note the ACM's current condition and physical characteristics. Through this reinspection, 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 reinspections.

    EPA recommends a visual and physical evaluation of ACM during the reinspections to note the ACM's current condition and physical characteristics.

    Additional Asbestos Exposure Prevention Measures for Asbestos Hazards

    • Supplemental Air Monitoring for Asbestos Hazards

      As part of an O&M program, a carefully designed air monitoring program to detect airborne asbestos fibers in the building may provide useful supplemental information when conducted along with a comprehensive visual and physical ACM inspection and reinspection program. For employees who are, or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to airborne concentrations of asbestos fibers above the permissible limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regulations require that the employer conduct both initial and periodic air sampling. For more information about the OSHA exposure monitoring requirements, see the OSHA regulations at 29 CFR § 1910.1001(d) found at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9995

      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, found at http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/section10.html .)

      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.

      • Sampling Methods for Asbestos Hazards

        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.

      • Methods of Air Sampling Analysis for Asbestos Hazards

        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 - http://ts.nist.gov/Standards/scopes/temtm.htm- 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) found at http://ts.nist.gov/Standards/scopes/temtm.htm

      • Selecting a Lab to Test Samples for Asbestos

        Selection of a reliable and experienced air monitoring firm and analytical laboratory is important, if the building owner elects to conduct supplemental air monitoring under the O&M program. A consultant knowledgeable in air sampling and analysis protocols can be contacted for recommendations if the building owner or APM has limited knowledge in this area. Contact your state asbestos regulatory agency (5 pp, 17k) (original source http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/statecontactsapril2009.pdf ) for information on how to find an accredited asbestos professional.

        In addition, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains a listing of accredited asbestos laboratories under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP). You may call NIST at (301) 975-401

Asbestos Flooring Hazard Articles

 

 

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