How to Identify Floor Tiles & Sheet Flooring
How to identify floor tiles or sheet flooring that may (or may not) contain asbestos. This article lists a series of photo guides used to identify floor tiles, sheet flooring, or resilient flooring by manufacturer brand, pattern, age, type, dimensions and other properties. Some of these products do or are likely to contain asbestos.
It is possible, by making a simple visual inspection, noting the probable age of the building and age of its materials, and similar clues to identify most flooring products and to identify flooring products that should be presumed to contain asbestos. This article series assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by visual inspection.
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Asphalt asbestos and vinyl-asbestos floor tiles were produced in 6"x6" (rare), 9" x 9", 12" x 12", and even 18" x 18" as well as in decorative strips, and in thicknesses of 1/16", 3/32", and 1/8", also in 0.08 gauge.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Some sheet flooring or resilient flooring also contained asbestos.
See RESILIENT SHEET FLOORING ID GUIDE
Some floor tile mastics & adhesives also contained asbestos.
See MASTIC, CUTBACK ADHESIVE, FLASHING CEMENT ASBESTOS.
This photo guide to asphalt asbestos & vinyl asbestos floor tiles for each year shows at least one color photo of each floor tile style or pattern in an example color. A list below each group of photos includes the names of and links to additional photos for other colors of these styles.
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.
To identify a particular asphalt-asbestos or vinyl-asbestos floor tile pattern & color, start in the image group most likely to be the same age as your building.
If you don't find your floor tile or sheet flooring by looking forward from that that year, you should also look backwards in the earlier years as your specific flooring pattern & color may have first appeared in an earlier year. For other tile brands than Armstrong, see the brand name floor tile links included in this list.
If you can identify your floor tile collection name or model number, or if you recognize it in the extensive library of flooring color and pattern photographs provided in these pages, laboratory testing of the sample to screen the flooring for asbestos may be unnecessary. Our home page for asbestos-containing floor tiles is
at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE PHOTO ID GUIDE
To send us photographs of possible asbestos-containing flooring that you are trying to identify, use the email address found
The Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile (and asphalt asbestos and sheet flooring asbestos) photo catalog became so huge that the file was slow to load and unwieldy - so we broke the catalog into segments by year range.
Scan through our images of asphalt asbestos or vinyl asbestos flooring, both tiles and sheet flooring) using the links below by starting at the earliest year that might pertain to your building or to when you think the flooring was installed. Because many floor tile patterns were produced over many years there is of course overlap among these year ranges.
Many of the colors and patterns of asphalt-asbestos or vinyl-asbestos floor tiles were manufactured over many years and may appear in more than one of the floor tile photo collections listed by date range here.
For each year we list the names of the floor tile patterns sold during that year, we include representative color images of the floor tiles, and throughout the entire floor tile pattern & color history series we include each floor tile color & pattern of the floor tile in the first year that it appeared , and we include representative colors and patterns in other years.
Examples of floor tile packaging, labeling, and other information can be found throughout the flooring photo collections listed here.
Shown at above left is a vinyl-asbestos floor specification summary and usage guide from 1959 - Armstrong.
Continue reading at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Or see FLOOR TYPES & DEFECTS - home
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
OR use the Search Box found below at Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia
I have these pictures of the flooring surrounding the floor air vent in the bathroom of my house. Both are taken from inside the vent looking up. The white overhang is the bottom of the relatively new sheet flooring which is placed over the 1978 bathroom floor which is most likely some sort of sheet vinyl/linoleum . It's a typical bathroom floor.
Between the wood floorboard and the white overhang (new floor), you can see a brown looking material. I'm not sure if this is backing of the original floor, backing of the new floor, or something else entirely.
Without speculating too much, was the asbestos paper backing used on old flooring typically white in color? I'd like to rid the idea that the brown part you see (although blurry) is an asbestos backing. if realistic. I understand testing is the only way but im not about to rip it out.
Thanks for your time and I enjoy your website. it's very informative. I refer many people to it. - J.L.
I am sorry to say that the photos were too blurry for me to have much of an opinion - I know how tough it is to get the camera to focus in those odd awkward places. That said, here are some things to consider:
In my (limited) experience with asbestos-containing backing on sheet flooring, yes it's usually quite light or white in color.
But of course if it was exposed to dirt, dust, debris, spills, its color may be changed from original. If you think the flooring you see was installed before 1986 it's reasonable to presume it contains asbestos and to treat it accordingly - meaning don't make a mess.
It sounds as if it's all covered with other layers so it surely isn't much of a fiber release hazard in your home in general.
But I agree that if asbestos-suspect material is exposed in the air path of your HVAC system ductwork, it would be prudent to see if you could cover or encapsulate it - probably you'd use a spray on coating if you can't reach the exposed surface to laminate something over it.
That'd be much less disturbance than tearing up floors unnecessarily. - DF
In the lab, following Walter McCrone's procedure for teasing out asbestos particles from solid materials such as this floor tile, we broke a small corner off for further examination by microscope.
Tiles are broken, not cut, in order to expose asbestos fibers for removal, slide preparation, and microscopic examination using transmitted, reflected, and primarily polarized-light central stop diffusion microscopy.
See our ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION PHOTOS by YEAR for our full list and set of photographs.
This stereo-microscopic view of the edge of this asbestos-floor tile shows the combination of binder, limestone, possibly asbestos powder as well as asbestos fibers, and other silicate materials.
See ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE LAB PROCEDURES for a detailed example of how small floor tile samples may be processed in a forensic laboratory to look for asbestos fibers in the matrix of a floor tile such as our example at left.
Re the bown "Asphalt asbestos floor tile C" above, I have similar tiles and have an original box without the word Asbestos on it. If I send you a picture and the name, would you be able to tell me if it contains asbestos? - M Ziver 8/16/11
M. Zilver, depending on the year or age, indeed there were epochs in which both asbestos-containing and non-asbestos-containing lookalike flooring was produced. If we can recognize the product with confidence I'd be glad to say so; or we can give further advice about testing. I'd like to see photos of the tile pattern, tile back if there are any markings, all markings on all sides of the packaging, and in addition I'd like to know the tile size and its thickness. We look forward to hearing from you. Use the CONTACT link to send me photos.
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 was'nt sure what was underneath it yet, so he could'nt 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, would'nt 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.
Please Guide Me On What Epoxy To Use - Joseph Megna 9/20/2011
Joseph, stop by your local paint supply store and ask about expoxy-based floor paints - there is a wide variety, all suitable.
Hi, I've been doing some work in my home and found some old tile under the carpet. Some of the tiles are very loose and easy to remove, others not so easy. The house was built in the late 1950's, and the tiles resemble some of what i've seen on this site, but they have a black papery backing to them. They are more likely to tear than to crumble. These tiles are thin, as opposed to the kitchen tiles which are thicker and more fragile(from the same era). Should I be concerned about the black papery ones? I dont have any idea who the manufacturer was. - Jennifer 10/1/11
do you know if the SEARS brand HOMART 64-7169 asphalt floor tile contained asbestos? - Paul Wright 9/22/11
Have you heard of Dura Floor Plastic Asphalt Tiles? Do they contain asbestos? - Jo Lynn Judka 10/24/11
I have 12" x 12" tile in the basement just like the pattern San Roque Gold 57161 from 1980.
However, this tile is not 1/8 thick but 1/16 and it was peel & stick. Would this contain asbestos? - David 11/27/11
Is there a way I can forward someone a photo of a school floor to determine if it contains asbestos? I am unable to get back into the building It is closed, but the school dept wants to open it again and is saying that there isn't a problem. I looked through the tiles on your site, but oculdn't find an exact match. The school was built in 1950-1960, but we have no evidence that the tiles have been replaced. Can you help? -
we have an armstrong floor tile (black color) with the following numbers on the back L4 1230 021898. We don't know the year it was installed. Does it contain asbestos? Is there a way to cross reference these numbers? - Dan 5/1/12
We have the San Roque pattern sheet vinyl. Did Armstrong use the same patterns at a later date for their sheet vinyl but without asbestos? We have already started to remove it and I am concerned. - Sue 10/24/2012
We have vinyl sheet flooring that was put in about mid 1984. Is this anything to worry about? When exactly was asbestos banned in the manufacture of sheet flooring? - Peter 11/6/2012
David, naturally by email alone no one can say with certainty whether or not a floor tile contains asbestos, but if your flooring matches one of the ACM floor tiles we illustrate here, AND if you are confident about the age (as you suggest) most likely it is an asbestos-containing product. And yes, for sure there were some peel-and-stick floor tiles that contained asbestos in the tile baking.
That does not necessarily mean that you need a costly asbestos remediation job - it depends on the condition of the surface, use made of the area, etc. If the floor is sound you may have the option of simply covering it with a new material.
JoLynn, sorry we don't have information about DuraFloor plastic asphalt tiles. Do you know the age of the product? You're welcome to send us photos (see the CONTACT link at top, side, bottom of our pages), and I'll research further. Certainly up to the early 1980's many asphalt floor tile products contained asbestos.
Dan, while we have published product and lot numbers for some floor tile products, there are just too many of them, thousands. Unlike mechanical equipment like water heaters or furnaces, I have not found a standard of correlation between product numbers and date of manufacture, though it probably was included in widely varying ways by individual manufacturers.
You can narrow down the asbestos question by:
- noting the age of the building itself as that sets the earliest plausible date for its floor materials +/- a year or so to allow for flooring sold from stock
- noting the date of any renovations of the building
- noting whether or not there are multiple layers of flooring or other similar changes that give a renovation history
- noting information on any packaging used for the floor tiles - sometimes an extra box of floor tiles is left and stored in a building, intended to supply future repairs or changes to the floor
- comparing the appearance of your flooring to the photographs we provide in these tile identification articles
- sending a small sample of flooring to a certified asbestos testing lab
For a tile floor of unknown constituents, do not do something foolish such as grinding, sanding, power sawing, or a dusty messy demolition.
I think you mngh want to ask Armstrong, but in NY case, if you remove materials following the recommended procedures and avoid making a dusty ness you should be OK
my brother is an inmate at a prison in virginia and was directed to install asbestos tile dated "1979 asbestos tile" in a new dorm area quite large, Sept. 2011, this included drilling, cutting, sweeping the dust and disposing of scraps in the regular trash. he made aware the guard which is his boss of the asbestos labels on the box and was the directed to still finish the room. does anyone know if this is legal? - David 10/10/11
David, we are not qualified to offer a legal opinion about the obligations of the prison system in Virginia. But it makes sense to handle asbestos or asbestos suspect materials properly. Creating a dusty mess puts everyone at risk - not just prisoners who might have had the greatest exposure, but even guards and their families who may be exposed to dust brought home on clothing.
I am planning to put laminate floors down, however I noticed I have the type of linolium tiles described above as 9X9 reddish brown tiles (C2009 right hand side). Can I safely put laminate floors on top ...or do I need to remove the floor tiles. Right now I have the foor tiles exposed in some rooms, and carpeted over in others. What should I do and how much danger am I currently in? I have 2 small children in the home. Dorthe - 10/12/11
You can put a laminate floor over existing flooring with no trouble as long as the existing floor is sufficiently smooth, level, and dry. Typically one uses an underlayment to cushion the new laminate floor and the new floor is free-floating over the old surface.
I can't assess the current level of danger you may be in from your floor tiles, knowing so little about your building, but in general, if the tiles are undamaged and you don't run power equipment like sanders, grinders, or saws that make a dusty mess, and provided we're talking about a private home, the chances that you could measure airborne asbestos from your floors is minimal to nil.
I'm not sure what OSHA regulations might apply to prison inmates nor do we know the level of risk to which your brother was exposed but indeed it is a surprise to read that anyone continues to install that flooring material in a public facility, much less to direct cutting, drilling, etc.
If proper precautions were taken to control dust and debris and if proper personal protection was provided (HEPA respirator, HEPA vacuuming, wetting, etc.) then the actual risk from the flooring procedure itself would have been minimized.
I am not a contractor. I'm a homeowner who is a complete amateur when it comes to home improvements. My home is in Los Angeles and was built in 1956. A few years ago I removed green vinyl floor tiles from a bathroom that was put in when the house was built. I used a power tool called a Hilti Hammer that I rented from Home Depot.
I wore a simple white dust mask and the dust from the demolition was so great that after the job, when I blew my nose, black soot came out. Sorry for the gross detail. What was I thinking?! I feel so stupid, as I have likely exposed myself, my family, and my pets to asbestos. I have the same vinyl tile in another bathroom and I was wondering if I should have a small sample tested for asbestos. Also, throughout the rest of my home I have wood parquet 9" x 9" tiles that were installed in 1956. I wonder what the likelihood of asbestos is in the mastic behind those tiles? I sure hope that myself and my family don't come down with Asbestosis or Mesothelioma years from now. :( - Lynne Barrow 10/31/11
Medical questions need to be addressed to your doctor.
But it would be reasonable to ask an expert to examine your home for settled dust that contains asbestos. If significant levels of asbestos-contaminated dust are found in your home on surfaces, carpets, or other materials, professional cleaning would be in order.
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 arent 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.
If aspestos tiles are removed from a room and replaced with carpet tiles, do you have to remove the glue from the tiles before using the new glue? - Darlene 8/21/12
Some floor tiles or glues or mastics indeed did contain asbestos fibers and should be handled accordingly. Naturally gooey material is not so friable nor easily airborne.
If the tile mastic is remaining adhered to a concrete slab or subfloor and you cover it with new flooring material you'd be following accepted practices.
Can the asbestos flooring come in tiles only or does it come in a role? - P.H. 12/31/12
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 in the year ranges described in the article above 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.
I am emailing you after reviewing your very informative website. I have a question about the tile in my basement. We are looking to renovate the space and are concerned about the tile possible containing asbestos. I live in new Jersey and my house was built in 1964. A form of asphalt tile was glued down in either 1964 or 1965. After reviewing your website and the photo section. I do not see our particular tile shown.
My question is: Is your photo gallery all inclusive of tile containing asbestos? The tile can be popped up without breaking any of the tile. Would the adhesive used in laying the tile also contain asbestos? It seems to be a black tar like substance. I would be able to send you a picture of the actual tile if that would be helpful.
- E.T. 4/10/2013
Thank you - your question is helpful to me too.
No my photo lib of asbestos containing tile is not exhaustive, though it's the largest one that's been published. There are some companies for whom I cannot find a comprehensive catalog showing all of their tile patterns (Armstrong was the most thorough), and there are companies out of the U.S. whose catalog data is even more scarce. But given how these products were made, it's reasonable to treat old asphalt-asbestos and vinyl-asbestos floor tiles of the appropriate age range as "PACM" or presumed-asbestos containing.
Nobody should panic about this flooring - doing so can result in spending inappropriately. But at the same time some caution is in order such as avoiding making a dusty mess by grinding, steel power buffing, and incompetent demolition. As well, in public spaces such as schools additional regulation may apply.
Where the floor is in good condition there are low cost options that help minimize the risk of asbestos release such as hard coatings.
For floors such as the one you describe, where whole tiles pop up, one can remove such tiles with minimal disturbance of the tile itself, thus minimal asbestos dust release.
But you are right to worry about the tile mastic or "glue" that was used: indeed some mastics, particularly the black asphaltic mastic, often contained asbestos. Asbestos fibers (and possibly asbestos dust filler) were widely used in asphalt-based mastics, glues, and in roof flashing cements. The same caveats apply: if you avoid making a dusty mess you will minimize the risk and hazard of asbestos. We have published wetting guidelines and flooring removal guidelines citing expert sources to help minimize risk as well as cost.
If you are facing a costly demolition job then it may be appropriate to have both the mastic and a section of floor tile tested by a certified asbestos testing lab. The cost is usually around $50./sample or less. If you have other specific questions please let me know. Working together makes us both smarter.
Please keep me posted on how things progress, and send along photos of the flooring you described as well as where it's popped up showing the asbestos if you can. Such added details can help us understand what's happening and often permit some useful further comment. What we both learn may help me help someone else. And by publishing a photo of your unidentified floor tile we invite other readers to comment if they know the pattern, age, and manufacturer.
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.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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Periodic Visual Reinspections and Air Monitoring
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 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).