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Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tilesAsbestos-Ceiling Tiles
How to tell if ceiling tiles contain asbestos

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Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles:

Some but not all old ceiling tiles contain asbestos.

Here we discuss how to recognize & handle ceiling tiles that may contain asbestos. We describe the appearance, ingredients, years of manufacture, history, and producers of various types of ceiling tiles & coverings as an aid in determining whether or not a particular ceiling covering or tile is likely to contain asbestos.

This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection.

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.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Asbestos-containing Ceiling Tiles: Examples of materials that might contain asbestos fibers

Cleeve Abbey ceiling tiles - WikipediaAsbestos may have been used in the ceiling tile tiles and in lay-in ceiling tiles in suspended ceilings in the tile body or in paper facing or backing on the ceiling tiles; asbestos was also a common ingredient in some mastic adhesives used for glue-up application of ceiling tiles.

Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles are not considered friable but are soft enough that unnecessary sampling or disturbance may release asbestos dust and particles.

In addition, some ceiling tiles such as used in suspended ceilings may be holding a collection of asbestos-containing dust and debris (from other sources) on the hidden upper side of the tile.

In these articles we explain how to recognize and handle asbestos-suspect ceiling tiles or other ceiling or wall or building sheathing products,

Article Contents:

[Click to enlarge any image]

Chrysotile asbestos, one of the most commonly-used asbestos fibers, was used in production of some ceiling materials. Amosite asbestos, also a widely-used form of asbestos, was used in some ceiling tiles as well as in roof and floor tiles.

Crocidolite asbestos was also used in ceiling tile production. Ceilings were also covered with cement-asbestos products as a fire barrier in boiler rooms and similar locations.

A History of Ceiling Tiles: age, appearance, types, materials, manufacturers

Certainly not all ceiling tiles contain or ever contained asbestos. Knowing the the history of ceiling tiles and their various ingredients, combined with the size, brand (usually unknown), visual appearance and location of ceiling tiles, and adding the age of the building or of the ceiling tile installation itself can often quickly decide whether special handling or further investigation is warranted when demolishing, remodeling, or otherwise disturbing a ceiling.

But asbestos fibers were used in some acoustic asbestos ceiling tiles, often amphibole asbestos such as amosite, crocidolite, anthrophylite, tremolite, and actinolite, with amosite among the most commonly-found.

Modern ceiling products do not contain asbestos.

Tin ceilings (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: During any construction, demolition, or building remodeling project, as dust and particles from many materials, even paper and wood can be irritating or harmful to workers and occupants, prudent procedure would include appropriate dust control, personal protection equipment, and cleaning methods.


Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air or dust samples, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.

Which ceiling tile brands are reported to have contained asbestos? Which ceiling tiles are asbestos free?

Plaster lath board (C) Daniel Friedman

Insulating board panel and ceiling tile and panel manufacturers produced a range of products, many of which may contain asbestos, but other ceiling and wall covering & building sheathing products made of organic fibers, wood fibers, cane fibers generally do not contain asbestos.

Our photo (above) shows an antique plaster and lath ceiling in a pre-1900 home.

Asbestos was used in ceiling products at least as early as the 1800's and continued into the 1980's or possibly later depending on the country of origin or use of these products.

List of Ceiling Tile Manufacturers noting those that did or did not produce ceiling products containing asbestos

Manufacturers whose ceiling tiles were known to contain asbestos or are likely to contain asbestos are indicated in bold font in the list below.

Ceiling Tiles That Do Not Contain Asbestos

The ceiling tile products listed below have been confirmed to be asbestos free.

Older Ceiling Tiles that Did Not Contain Asbestos

Modern Ceiling Tiles Do Not Contain Asbestos

Modern ceiling products do not contain asbestos. Using Certainteed as an example, [www.certainteed.com] you can obtain an MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet) for each of the company's products.

Common modern ceiling product ingredients include fibrous glass wool, urea formaldehyde resin, and fiberboard products contain slag wool, starch, cellulose [wood fibers], perlite, crystalline silica, and clay.

Watch out: It's worth noting that even modern building products can present health hazards if they are not handled properly. For example crystalline silica can cause nose, throat, and lung irritation. [6]

How to Recognize Asbestos suspect ceiling tiles

Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

Some acoustic ceiling tiles contain asbestos. If renovation is planned it may be smart to simply handle this material as if it contained asbestos particles.

In these photographs of older square ceiling tiles the photo (below left) shows a smooth ceiling tile and the second photo (below right) an acoustic ceiling tile with its characteristic pattern of holes.

Both of these products might contain asbestos fibers, though the principal material is usually cellulose.

The larger suspended ceiling segment, 2'x4' in size (photo above right), was pushed aside to show the older layers of ceiling materials above.

The suspended ceiling tile, if made of fiberglass or cellulose is not a likely asbestos fiber source.

Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

Our concern in this particular instance was that the entire cavity above the suspended ceiling was being used as an air conditioning return air plenum, exposing all of the building HVAC system and occupants to whatever particles were released by materials in the cavity, including possibly asbestos from the older layer of acoustic ceiling tiles.

The remediation contractor removed all of these layers to expose (and clean) the concrete ceiling above prior to installing a new suspended ceiling.

More Asbestos-Suspect Ceiling Tile Photographs

Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

Our perforated acoustic ceiling tile photo above shows that these particular asbestos-containing ceiling materials were also sometimes applied to a vertical wall.

Below we show a different pattern of asbestos-suspect ceiling tiles found in a government building we examined in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

As you can see from the photographs shown here, these acoustic ceiling tiles over a wet area can support mold growth.

Also see MOLD INFORMATION CENTER.

Asbestos containing acoustic ceiling tiles

List of Materials Used to Produce Ceiling Tiles & Ceiling Coverings

Tremoite asbestos ceilint giles as fireproofing (C) Daniel Friedman

We moved this list to CEILING TILE MATERIALS - separate article.

Also see CEILING FINISHES INTERIOR and CEILINGS, DROP or SUSPENDED PANEL

Our photo (left) shows tremolite asbestos panels glued to the ceiling over a basement of a commercial building in White Plains, New York.

Tremolite asbestos panels were used as a fire-proofing over a boiler room and where other heating equipment was installed.

See ASBESTOS FIREPROOFING SPRAY-On Coatings for photos of dangerous tremolite asbestos ceiling panels and photos of spray-on asbestos fireproofing coatings.

Also see CEILING FINISHES INTERIOR

and see ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC a field identification guide to visual detection of asbestos in and on heating and cooling system ducts and flue vents.

Also see Micro-Photographs of Dust from the World Trade Center collapse following the 9/11/01 attack. Links to U.S. government and other authoritative research and advice are included.

Ceiling Tile Asbestos Content Identification Requests, Questions, Photos, Comments

Suspended ceiling tiles (C) InspectApedia BBAdditional asbestos-in-ceiling tiles questions and replies are in the FAQs section of this article.

Question: do these suspended ceiling tiles contain asbestos?

Was wondering if you could tell if these are likely asbestos ceiling tiles? The building was made in 1985 though I don't know the age of the tiles. They say "CON SAFE" on the back... They are in my workplace, a government building. - B.B.

Reply:

B.B.

While the current 1999 EPA notice basically retracted asbestos bans in the U.S., as we noted in the introduction to this article, because of consumer resistance to purchasing asbestos-containing material (ACM) for housing or office finish products, it's not likely that an office put up in 1985 used ACM.

Unfortunately, a responsible and reliable reply is that one can't know for sure when a material was made nor what it contains simply from your photo - you'd need to have a little sample of the material tested by a certified asbestos testing lab for a definitive answer.

Question: is cleaning up dust after improper asbestos removal dangerous

How dangerous is it to clean up an area after asbestos tiles were removed without proper equipment or disposal? What is required to be safe during clean-up? - Darlene 1/21/2013

Reply: quite possibly

Darlene: in my OPINION the answer is at least potentially YES.

If asbestos containing material, particularly friable materials such as ceiling tiles, or any ACM that was removed in a manner that created dust was removed without proper dust containment and follow-up testing, there could be high enough levels of asbestos in remaining dust in the building to be a hazard to occupants.

For example, running an ordinary household (non-HEPA) vacuum cleaner, or even a HEPA rated vacuum if it leaks, would send that asbestos-containing dust into the air - where occupants may indeed breathe it.

In my own experience I've encountered this problem a number of times and often follow-up testing confirmed that further professional cleaning was needed.

Provided that there is an established need (and thus justification of the expense) for an asbestos dust cleanup, a professional will set up dust containment to keep other building areas safe from dust, use a negative air machine as part of that containment, then typically s/he will HEPA vacuum and damp wipe the building surfaces.

A follow-up test by a professional confirms that the cleanup was successful and that the containment system also worked.

Question: do these 16x32" ceiling tiles in a 1941 home contain asbestos?

Bulged water damaged 16 x 32 ceiling tiles - possible asbestos (C) InspectApedia C.H.

We are buying a house built in 1941 that has 16"x32" ceiling panels glued to the rafters in every room (photo attached).

Leaks from the roof have damaged many of them and we need to know whether they contain asbestos before we disturb the area. Are asbestos testing kits from a hardware store a legitimate way to go? - C.H. 4/18/2013

Reply:

Dear C.H.

No one should pretend that they could reliably identify or exclude asbestos-containing material in your building or its ceiling from just your photo, but I certainly understand and appreciate the question.

There are certainly ceiling tiles that do contain asbestos, and others even of the same era (up to the 80's) that do not. Sometimes one can look at the material by eye and see that it is a wood fiber product; but if you don't know, leave it alone until you do.

From the dimensions you gave and from your photo, I'm not 100% sure you are looking at acoustic ceiling tiles, though I agree that the beveled edges in a closer look at your picture look like glue-up or staple-up ceiling tiles not plaster. For comparison see PLASTER BULGES & PILLOWS.

As you suspect possible asbestos I suggest:

I can't comment on an over-the-counter asbestos test kit - as honestly I just don't know what you were looking-at. Identification of asbestos dust or fibers in materials requires two kinds of microscopic examination; if the test kit is simply a container for a sample, along with safe sampling instructions, and that  material is sent to a certified lab, perhaps that's fine.

At ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST we provide information on how to find a qualified, certified asbestos testing laboratory.

If there is access to the ceiling from above and if you can safely enter there and safely lift insulation for inspection, check, to see if those bulged or pillowed segments of the ceiling are visible from their upper side as plasterboard. [If you find vermiculite ceiling in the area don't disturb it because that may be an asbestos hazard even if the ceiling proves not to be. Vermiculite building insulation (VERMICULITE INSULATION)was often poured into previously un-insulated ceilings of homes from the 1940's.]

Keep us posted if you have the material tested or if you are able to explore the extent of water-related damage above this ceiling - what you find will assist other readers.

Question: Do You Think These Ceiling Tiles Contain Asbestos ? [photo attached]

Acoustic ceiling tiles (C) D Friedman Anon

Do you think this contains asbestos? - Anonymous 

Reply:

Your photos show what look like 9-inch or possibly 12-inch brown fiberboard acoustic ceiling tiles. While the predominant material in these ceilings is usually wood fibers, indeed up to the 1980's many such ceilings contained asbestos as well.

A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately find where there are asbestos containing materials (ACM), presumed-asbestos containing materials (PACM), or what might also be called "asbestos-suspect materials".

That said, here are some things to consider:

For safety it makes sense to treat presumed-asbestos materials or PACM as if they indeed contained asbestos, meaning apply the same guidelines: leave intact materials alone if possible, encapsulate the material for added protection, and if materials are damaged, friable, or are likely to be disturbed by normal building activities, bring in a professional asbestos abatement contractor who, after confirming that the materials are asbestos-containing, will handle the removal or encapsulation with professional dust control, removal, cleaning.

For a single damaged ceiling tile such as in your photo, I'm doubtful that calling a professional asbestos abatement company will be justified, but if you treat the material as Presumed Asbestos Containing Material (PACM) that means using appropriate methods for cleanup and then encapsulation or covering of the damaged section.

Question: Do you think this Canadian acoustic ceiling tile is an asbestos material? I have chest pains since taking down this dusty mess.

Canadian ceiling tiles (C) InspectApedia & MMHi i think these were installed in the mid 80's or even 90's. They are really dusty when removed them.

I removed them all about a month ago, sometimes i have some breathing chest mild problems but i think from painting and general reno dust. Are you familiar with these tiles in Ontario? - M. 11/28/12

Reply:

The tiles in your ceiling by dimension and general appearance could contain asbestos;

In my OPINION, even if the tiles didn't contain asbestos, exposing yourself to a high dose of dust can easily result in respiratory irritation and on occasion other health issues from rodent, insect, or other particles.

If you never checked with your doctor you should do so. I'd do that even before testing the material for asbestos.

Question: can we paint our asbestos-suspect ceiling tiles or do they have to be covered over?

We have square ceiling tiles in living room and bedroom that were probably installed in the 60's or 70's. The ceiling has been painted with a latex-type paint.

There are no friable areas, everything seems intact and covered with a layer of paint. Does this painting effectively prevent presumed asbestos fibers in the tiles (based on age) from entering the air and creating a hazard? Or should the ceilings be furred out and covered? - Edward, 12/3/2012

Reply:

If the ceiling is painted, not friable, not damaged, not in an area likely to be damaged, it's best to leave it alone. You don't need to install a new ceiling layer over it.

Additional asbestos-in-ceiling tiles questions and replies are in the FAQs section of this article.

How to Remove Asbestos or Asbestos-suspect Ceiling Tiles Safely

Moved to ASBESTOS CEILING TILE REMOVAL PROCEDURE

Procedure for removing hardboard asbestos ceiling tiles

Moved to ASBESTOS HARDBOARD CEILING TILE REMOVAL PROCEDURE

Procedure for Removing an Asbestos-Suspect Suspended Ceiling

Moved to ASBESTOS SUSPENDED CEILING TILE REMOVAL PROCEDURE

Procedure for Removing a single (screwed-in) asbestos insulating board (AlB) ceiling tile

Moved to ASBESTOS INSULATING BOARD CEILING TILE REMOVAL PROCEDURE

Asbestos Ceiling Tile Removal Procedure Standards & Guidelines

Moved to ASBESTOS CEILING TILE REMOVAL PROCEDURES

Do 2' x 4' Armstrong Ceiling Panels made in 1976 contain Asbestos? See details at ARMSTRONG CEILING TILES

Do Boise Cascade Ceiling Tiles Contain Asbestos? This discussion moved to BOISE CASCADE CEILING TILES

Do some Celotex® ceiling tiles contain asbestos? For details and for a list of Celotex insulating products believed to contain asbestos - see CELOTEX ASBESTOS PRODUCTS

Do Domtar® Ceiling Tiles or Drywall Contain Asbestos? Moved to DOMTAR CEILING TILES

Asbestos hazard in FRF ceiling tiles? - This discussion moved to FRF CEILING TILES

Johns Manville Ceiling Tiles & Wall Panels - asbestos? - See details at JOHNS MANVILLE CEILING & WALL PANELS

Do Sears Roebuck & Co. Ceiling Tiles Contain Asbestos? This discussion has moved to SEARS ROEBUCK CEILING TILES

Simpson Forestone Woodfiber Acoustic Ceiling Tiles - This discussion moved to its own page at SIMPSON CEILING TILES

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Continue reading at ASBESTOS CEILING TILE FAQs or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see ASBESTOS TESTING LAB LIST for access to certified asbestos testing labs

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ASBESTOS CEILING TILES at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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