Asbestos containing vinyl asbestos floor tiles Asbestos Flooring Hazard levels

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Asbestos flooring hazard levels: what is the actual risk level from asphalt asbestos floor tiles, vinyl asbestos floor tiles, or asbestos-backed sheet flooring? 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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What is the Level of Hazard of Asphalt Asbestos or Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles?

Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tiles 1955 (catalog photo)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.

[Click to enlarge any image]

The risk of asbestos particle release and thus asbestos exposure from asbestos-containing flooring depends on several variables that we list here.

  • Condition of the asbestos-containing flooring: Here is what the University of Minnesota has to say about the hazards of this type of asbestos-containing floor tiles:

    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.

  • Asbestos-containing floor tile or sheet flooring color, ingredients, composition vary in asbestos content: as we discuss
    at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION, depending on the particular mixture of asphalt, gilsonite, asbestos, limestone, and pigment used, these floor tiles could contain as much as 70% asbestos by weight.

    One reason that so much asbestos was used in flooring tiles was simply the wish to find an application for asbestos waste product from asbestos mining operations.

  • Location of asbestos containing floor coverings: an asbestos containing or presumed asbestos containing floor covering that is in a low-traffic area, in good condition, is not a significant hazard to building occupants. In a high traffic location where a floor is subjected to wear, abrasion, abuse, the risk will be greater.

  • Coverings over asbestos-containing flooring: if the asbestos-floor tiles or sheet flooring have been painted, coated with a sealant, or floored-over using carpet, laminate, or any other continuous flooring so that the original floor is not exposed, the risk level provided by the original asbestos-containing flooring is low to beneath the level of detection in the building.

  • Methods used to leave in place (least risk), repair, or remove (most risk) asbestos-containing flooring. If removing or renovating asbestos-containing flooring or flooring that is presumed to contain asbestos (PACM), don't use grinders, sanders, or demolition methods that break up flooring into many small pieces.


    Also see ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Wetting Guidelines.

Advice on Removing Asbestos-containing Asphalt or Vinyl Floor Tiles

Details about asbestos-flooring product removal are

  • First choice: consider simply installing a new material atop the old instead of removing asbestos-containing flooring. Remember that asbestos is not "radioactive" - it does not cause injury or illness simply by being present, encapsulated in a substance or covered-over by a new material.
  • The University of Minnesota source includes advice on removing asbestos-containing floor tiles if removal is required for any reason, and the UM provides examples of do-it-yourself removal procedures that are safe for homeowners as well as examples that were probably unsafe or improper.
  • In general, avoid violent demolition, such as using floor sanders, grinders, or floor stripping machines to remove these materials.
  • During demolition or removal, this material should be disturbed as little as possible.
  • In most residential cases testing these floor products is probably not justified, but if you prefer to send asbestos-suspect material samples to an NVLAP certified lab, they usually want three separate samples each about 3/4" in diameter, and charge about $20./sample.

    Here is the NIST link about those labs: that has a list of participants. NVLAP is a national voluntary lab accreditation program within NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce whose lab program is at
  • For guidelines for wetting asbestos containing materials, see

    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.

  • ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION - things you can do to minimize asbestos particle or fiber release from an existing asphalt asbestos or vinyl asbestos floor: tiles or sheet flooring

  • ASBESTOS FLOORING REMOVAL GUIDE - how to remove asbestos-containing flooring while minimizing the asbestos release or exposure hazard

Asbestos suspect sheet flooring from Justin Morrill HomesteadAntique Linoleum, Jute-Backed: not an asbestos product

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
- 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,

How to Dispose of Vinyl-Asbestos or Asphalt Asbestos-Containing Floor Tiles

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:

  • Contact local waste hauler for special pick-up.
  • Contact licensed abatement contractor for pick-up and disposal.
  • Dispose of waste yourself.

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

Continue reading at ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Or see ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Wetting Guidelines

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ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD LEVEL at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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