Ceramic floor tile - asbestos containing (C) D Friedman Asbestos Content in Ceramic Floor Tile or Ceramic Wall Tile?
     

  • CERAMIC TILE, ASBESTOS in? - CONTENTS: Do or did ceramic floor tiles or wall tiles ever contain asbestos? Do or did ceramic tile grout, bedding compounds, thin-set mortars, or tile-set mastics contain asbestos?Do other non-ceramic tiles such as terrazzo contain asbestos?What are the health hazards that may be encountered, asbestos or otherwise, when removing, demolishing, or repairing ceramic tile surfaces or working in art studios?Demolition or remodeling advice for old ceramic tile floors or walls
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the asbestos content in ceramic tiles
  • REFERENCES

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This article answers the questions: do or did ceramic wall or floor tiles contain asbestos? and do or did tile grout, tile bedding compounds, thin-set mortars, or tile mastic used with ceramic tiles contain asbestos?

We explain the ingredients in ceramic floor tiles, cite authoritative research on the presence or absence of asbestos in these ceramic tile, or its absence, and we point to sources of confusion about the question of which ceramic products (tiles, pottery, filters) contain or ever contained asbestos as a filler or as a fiber strengthener.

We report on an international survey of certified asbestos testing laboratories who were asked for their experience in receiving ceramic tile samples or mortar/grout samples and testing them for asbestos content.

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Does Ceramic Floor Tile or Ceramic Wall Tile Contain Asbestos?

Ceramic floor tile - asbestos containing (C) D Friedman

Is asbestos found non-resilient flooring such as ceramic floor tiles?

Our page top photo illustrates a fragment-section of old ceramic floor tile. At left we show a side-view or cross-section of how this old ceramic floor tile was installed by bedding it directly into concrete. We would not expect to find evidence of asbestos in this tile installation.

[Click to enlarge any image]

This example was found in a pile of demolition debris left at a building renovation site. The tile was set into and well bonded to concrete, and was removed under wet conditions.

The short answer for now appears to be "yes and no" as follows:

  • Ceramic floor and wall tile produced in North America would not be expected to contain asbestos. However you may find asbestos in some tile grouts and thinset tile mastics and possibly in hand-made tiles made as part of an art project using art clay.
  • Ceramic floor and wall tile produced outside of North America may contain asbestos depending on where it was produced and what additives were intentionally or accidentally included by the manufacturer. This may be true particularly for files produced in the Mediterranean area.[44]
  • Non-ceramic floor tiles such as terrazzo floor tiles (and possibly some unglazed ceramic quarry tiles), produced both in the U.S. and from other countries may contain asbestos depending on its formula. Some "manmade" "terrazzo" consisting of concrete, marble, and/or epoxy alone won't contain asbestos.

Antique ceramic tile, Barcelona, Spain (C) D FriedmanDetails, including authoritative citations and an ongoing survey of the results of tile testing at asbestos testing labs in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Korea, the U. K. and other locales are provided below.

OPINION: researching this question we find that the dominant opinion among experts and amateurs is that ceramic tiles are made of clay subjected to high temperatures and finished with a hard glazed surface. Not asbestos.

If there are some ceramic tiles whose clay source included asbestos or to which asbestos was added [a topic of ongoing research that we report and update below] the tiles are nevertheless a non-friable material that would not normally be a hazardous source of asbestos in buildings. Non-friable materials are hard and do not easily release particles into the indoor environment.

Watch out: grinding, tile-saw cutting, sanding or similar activities performed on ceramic tiles of any composition could produce fine dust and debris that should be controlled and treated as a respiratory hazard, asbestos-containing or not.

See ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Wetting Guidelines.

Our photo (above left) illustrates antique ceramic tiles photographed by the author in Barcelona.

So Do Ceramic Floor or Wall Tiles Contain Dangerous Levels of Asbestos or Not ? - research question status

Antique ceramic flooring in Barcelona Spain (C) D FriedmanDeliberate Inclusion of Asbestos as an Add-in to Ceramic Tiles?

Asbestos could have been included in some ceramic floor tile formulas into the 1970's as a filler or in fiber form as a strengthener. At least one asbestos testing lab director reports that asbestos is found in ceramic tiles made in some parts of the world such as the Mediterranean area and in unglazed terrazzo (non-ceramic) tiles.[44]

Don't Confuse Asphalt-based or Vinyl-based Asbestos-containing Flooring with Ceramic Products

In our flooring photograph at left, the floor and stair tiles may be vinyl-asphalt or vinyl-asbestos floor tiles but they are not a ceramic product. For information about asbestos-containing vinyl or asphalt-based floor tiles, see  ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION.

Certainly as we see in Rosato [23], the asbestos industry was constantly looking for uses of asbestos mining waste products that included granular asbestos dust and short asbestos fibers.

Although we cite field and lab reports above, we have not yet located an authoritative reference source (text, journal article, government document) that documents the deliberate or accidental inclusion of asbestos material added to modern (20th century and later) ceramic floor or wall tiles. Please contact us if you have such information.

In contrast, it is certain asbestos was used in those forms in vinyl-asbestos flooring (a different material from ceramic tiles). And as we document below, asbestos was used in mixture with ceramic fibers (for certain products such as filters) and in ancient pottery applications.

Our photo (left) illustrates a floor tile installation in Barcelona, Spain. These floor tiles are estimated at more than 50 years old.

What is the Composition of Ceramic Tiles & is there Accidental Inclusion of Asbestos in Clays Mined for Use in Producing Traditional Ceramic Tiles?

The term "clay" refers to both a particle size (smaller than 2-4mm) and a type of rock or mineral comprised of fine-grained sheet silicates.[48] The fine-grained clays used to manufacture ceramic tiles include basically compounds of silica, alumina, and varying amounts of metallic oxides and other impurities. [32] Ceramic tiles are made from natural clay [such as Cretaceous clays [30] (not asbestos)] or porcelain, and are glazed or un-glazed.

Typical ceramic tile composition (in more detail) includes 33% refractory clay, 20% quartz, 45% sodium feldspar. Other sources list common tile ingredients including aluminum oxide, zirconium oxide, and quartz (silicon dioxide). Other ceramics have more complex formulas.

Ceramic tiles are made of clay (predominantly feldspar), water, and some mineral additives, processed with high heat to solidify the product and whose top or exposed surface is sealed with a glaze.

Porcelain tiles are a harder ceramic tile made of kaolin mixed with china stone, or in other sources, by using ground sand. Porcelain is heated to a higher temperature than other ceramics (more than 2000 degF) and is more dense than ceramic materials made of clay.

Many other materials have been included in clays used in making various ceramic products since the Stone Age (pottery) and continue to be added to give special properties or colors to modern ceramic tiles, including perlite, fly ash, granite stone grinding and cutting waste, etc. Indeed expert sources date the oldest known ceramics date to 27,000 BCE.

The oldest known ceramics made by humans are figurines found in the former Czechoslovakia that are thought to date from around 27,000 B.C.E. It was determined that the figurines were made by mixing clay with bone, animal fat, earth, and bone ash (the ash that results when animal bones are heated to a high temperature), molding the mixture into a desired shape, and heating it in a domed pit. The manufacture of functional objects such as pots, dishes, and storage vessels, was developed in ancient Greece and Egypt during the period 9000 to 6000 B.C.E. [33]

We have not found a citation that includes asbestos among these. Contact us if you have related information.

List of Authoritative sources reporting the use of [or absence of] asbestos in any form of ceramic floor tiles

  • Asbestos-containing ceramics, including wall tile or floor tile, or other flooring materials such as tile mastic: [excluding resilient flooring discussed separately
    at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE IDENTIFICATION]
    • Cement asbestos slates were described in the Journal of Hazardous Materials as [safely] recyclable in production of stoneware tile mixtures in 2008 [27] and a procedure for producing [safe] lightweight ceramic materials by a process bonding chrysotile asbestos fibers was described by Mackenzie and Meinhold in 1994. [28]
    • ACM flooring underlayment [underlayment is not ceramic tile itself ] has been found under flooring in demolition projects, a practice that can extend to ceramic floor tiles [4]
    • Asbetic flooring: using asbestos mine waste products (largely dust and very short asbestos fibers) is described by Rosato [23]. The result was a "hard but not completely water tight" flooring material. Asbetic is a mixture of ground mother rock and the shortest, otherwise unusable asbestos fibers. [He does not name ceramic tile flooring in this category.]
    • Asbestos in tile mastics: some tile mastics and adhesives including adhesives used for floor or wall tiles did contain asbestos as a filler or fiber strengthener. Traditional ceramic tile installations were bedded in cement [photo at page top], not mastic, and not an asbestos containing material.

      But from the 1960's some ceramic tile installations used a thin-set mortar or a thin-set mastic that might contain asbestos. For details
      see MASTIC, CUTBACK ADHESIVE, FLASHING CEMENT ASBESTOS
    • Asbestos in tile mortar: Asbestos used as an ingredient in tile mortar is described in a patent dispute.[27]
    • Survey of Accredited Laboratories for Asbestos Fiber Analysis[incomplete, survey in process March 2012][42]
  • Possible sources of confusion about asbestos content in ceramic floor tiles:
    • Asbestos in clay products: Asbestos has been reported in art clay (such as Fibro-Clay)[37] used in schools and in pottery clay where it occurred in the form of talc added as a flux to lower the firing temperature. Talc and clay from at least one U.S. mine contained anthophyllite asbestos. It was unclear whether or not this material fell under the aegis of asbestos regulation.[36] The asbestos content of talc depended on where it was mined, and some talcs were asbestos-free[40].

      Depending on the quarry source there may be deliberate or accidental inclusion of asbestos in terra cotta tiles such as roofing tiles. Other clay products that may have had asbestos added in the form of talc or vermiculite (some vermiculite contains asbestos) in addition to art clays, may include clays used as pipe joint seals or insulation, and in the production of firebricks used to line the combustion chambers of heating equipment such as boilers or furnaces, and other school art projects such as paper maches.[38][39]
    • Pre-historic origins of use of asbestos in clay pottery: The use asbestos-strengthened ceramic wares (pottery) dates from the Stone Age and continued throughout the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. Specifically, asbestos fibers were used to strengthen earthenware pots and cooking utensils as long s 4,500 years ago, an application documented by various sources.[26] Also, a Wikipedia entry on Asbestos-ceramic describes pottery made with asbestos and clay [25].
    • Asbestos textiles were used as safety protective clothing & gear for workers in the ceramics industries - a possible source of confusion associating the terms "ceramic tile" and "asbestos" in some search engine results. Some mesothelioma information and legal resource websites name "ceramic tiles" as containing asbestos [22] without citing an authoritative source.
    • ASBESTOS List of Asbestos-Containing Products - the InspectAPedia master list of asbestos forms and asbestos-containing products, enumerates asbestos-containing-materials (ACM) using historical information derived from Rosato and other industry sources.

      Rosato who provided an extensive discussion of asbestos used in flooring materials, referred exclusively to the use of asbestos in resilient flooring products (such as vinyl asbestos floor tiles) and excluded non-resilient flooring (stone, slate, ceramic tile). Rosato confirms use of asbestos and clay as mixture ingredients in premix-molding-compounds and the use of asbestos fibers mixed with ceramic fibers to form filter paper for the paper making industry (these are not ceramic tile products) [23]
    • Asbestos ceramic bricks: Leonelli et als. refer to the disposition of asbestos by microwave treatment of asbestos waste into ceramic bricks - another possible source of association of the words "ceramic" and "asbestos" in web searches that does not extend to ceramic tiles. National Center for Biotechnology Information, NIH, USA[24]

Do ceramic tiles risk releasing harmful particles into indoor air?

Ceramic floor or wall tiles of any formula, if in good condition have a low, most likely negligible risk of releasing harmful particles or fibers into indoor air. And a ceramic tile that comes loose intact or with a single break is also unlikely to release a measurable amount of dust or particulates into the building.

Watch out: Phillip A. Peterson Vice President Fibertec Industrial Hygiene Services, Inc.[49] advises that Although the tile themselves are unlikely to contain asbestos, the grout and bedding may well contain asbestos and the demolition of the tile will likely create an exposure hazard when the grout and/or bedding are disturbed.

Ceramic floor tiles that are being demolished, ground, sanded, or cut with a tile saw, if they are old enough to have been installed when asbestos was in common use in grout, tile bedding, or (in newer homes) thin set or tile mastic, could be hazardous and should be handled appropriately.

If you are considering demolition of old ceramic floor tiles or similar materials, or are using a sander, grinder or tile saw on such materials, there could indeed be an asbestos hazard and you should follow appropriate handling, dust control, personal protection, and cleanup procedures.

If you have a segment of floor tile (or any material) tested for asbestos the test should be performed by a certified asbestos testing laboratory.

In Any Case, Better to Leave Asbestos-Containing Floor Tiles In Place

As with known or suspected asbestos-containing floor tiles (such as asphalt or vinyl-asphalt asbestos floor tiles), when it's feasible expert sources recommend leaving the original floor tile material in place and covering it over with new flooring.

Leaving asbestos-suspect flooring in place, even if you need to level the floor before it is covered with new material, is not only less costly than a professional asbestos abatement project, it also is likely to be the course with the lowest risk of asbestos dust or fiber release and contamination in the building. According to the US EPA {discussing asbestos abatement in schools] :

... In addition, abatement activities may create more of a hazard than would normally exist if the ACM were simply protected and maintained in good condition as is the case for ceramic floor tiles. ...[3]

Similar sources indicate that simple deconstruction of a building with appropriately careful disassembly of its parts may not require asbestos abatement. [4]

Details about covering-over asbestos-containing floor tiles or other ACM flooring such as resilient sheet flooring are
at ASBESTOS FLOORING HAZARD REDUCTION

Special thank-you to reader A.H. who suggested clarification about the risk that ceramic wall tiles or ceramic floor tiles might contain asbestos. - Ed.

Health Hazards of Other Ceramics: Clays, Pottery, Art Studios

For potential health hazards associated with exposure to artists materials for those working with ceramics, such as clays, glazing compounds, and pigments, see our "Arts & Crafts materials, hazards & toxicity" entry at ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS - INSPECT, TEST, REMEDY and references below at [51][52][53]

Survey of Accredited Laboratories for Asbestos Fiber Analysis

Beginning in March 2012, and using the U.S. NIST directory of accredited laboratories certified for asbestos fiber analysis, [42] we polled at least one laboratory in each U.S. state, Puerto Rico, two Canadian Provinces, and laboratories in Japan and Korea, asking each if their laboratory had ever received ceramic tiles for asbestos testing and whether or not their lab had ever detected asbestos in ceramic tiles used on walls, floors, or other building services. Results will be included here.

We asked: "Can you tell us if your laboratory has ever received samples of ceramic wall or floor tile to test for asbestos, tell us if you have encountered asbestos in ceramic tiles used on walls or floors, and/or can you provide a reference to a paper, study, book, or expert who can tell us whether or not asbestos in any form was used in the production of ceramic wall tile or floor tile, or in terra-cotta or similar tile products." and we invited technical review of this article.

Survey
Respondents to Date

(n=55) (r=6)

Estimated
Avg.
Exper-
ience
Tile
Testing3
(R = 5 - 40)
Asbestos Detected in Ceramic Floor/Wall
Tiles
Estimated
Total
Tile Samples
Tested3
Estimated
Avg.
Exper-
ience
Years
Grout
Testing3
(R = 4 - 40)
Asbestos Detected in
Tile Grout,
Bedding
Mastic
Estimated 3
Total
Grout Samples Tested 3
Date: 4/23/12(1)
           
6
15

Never - 84%

Common - 16% (2)

540 10

Never - 25 %
Rare - 50%
Common - 25%

15004

Notes:
(1) Survey initiated 3/8/2012

(2) Asbestos reported as extensive in ceramic tiles made out of North America, particularly in the Mediterranean area[44]

(3) Our calculated estimate of total number of actual lab samples processed by laboratories responding to the survey. Based on correspondence, e.g. P. P. to D.F. 3/14/12[49] estimated less than 150" tile samples over 20 years of ceramic tile, & 200 grout & bedding samples over 8 years of testing. We estimated 6 tile samples per year or 25 grout samples per year per responding lab, and and multiplied that by known or estimated number of years of lab testing of tiles or grout. [E.g. 200 samples/8 yrs = 25 grout samples/year. 25 x 6(labs) x 10 yrs) =1500]

(4) In every case the asbestos mineral has been chrysotile asbestos and the concentration of asbestos has exceeded 2 percent (making them asbestos containing materials by definition).49]

 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Presence of Asbestos in Ceramic Wall or Floor Tiles Used in North America, Japan, Korea, the U. K., & The Mediterranean area

Question: I removed some 6" ceramic tiles that I estimate were from the late 70's or early 80's - would these ceramic tiles contain asbestos?

A few years ago I removed an area of ceramic tiles from the floor of my house. They were about 6inches square and 0.5 inches deep and were ceramic or possibly concrete. I am unsure of there age but estimate late 70s early 80s Would it have been likely that these tiles contained asbestos or were asbestos containing tiles restricted to the vinyl type? If it makes any difference our location is England. Any information you could give would be gratefully received Thanks - A.H. PS - your website is great and really useful

Reply: asbestos-ceramic tile risks, history in the UK, recommendations

From the age you give, and considering that the ceramic tiles could have been in stock for some time before they were installed, having been thus made in the 1970's, they indeed could have contained asbestos, particularly depending on the country of origin. We have some lab reports confirming asbestos in certain ceramic tiles from the Mediterranean and asbestos in some other floor tiles such as some terrazzos, but we have not yet located an authoritative source that documents that asbestos was ever used as a component of ceramic floor tiles or wall tiles.

Watch out: A more likely asbestos hazard one might encounter when removing ceramic floor or wall tiles would be an asbestos-containing tile mastic - the glue that was used to secure ceramic tiles on walls and floors in a thin-set installation methods. You would not expect to find asbestos below ceramic tiles at an older installation at which the tiles were bedded directly into cement - the "thick set" method for tile installation.

The history of asbestos use and regulation in the UK could have permitted your ceramic tiles, installed in the 1980's, to contain asbestos.

A brief-history of asbestos usage and asbestos regulation in the UK

A documented asbestos-related death in the UK occurred as early as 1906. Asbestos regulation began in the UK in 1931, and in 1965 mesothelioma had been documented there. Imports of asbestos into the U. K. peaked in 1967.

By 1970 the UK had banned the import of raw crocidolite and amosite asbestos was banned (voluntary ban) in 1980.

More strict licensing regarding asbestos handling and remediation did not begin in the UK until 1980s. The first UK Asbestos- material licensing regulations date from 1983, while in the U. K. asbestos-containing product prohibitions date from 1985 with UK asbestos material regulation amendments in 1988, 1992, 1994 and onwards to a final "comprehensive ban" in 1999. Silverdell, [7]

The actual hazard of their removal would have depended on their condition, how they were removed, and the quantity. Generally the asbestos released from ceramic tiles removed relatively intact should be quite low.

Please take a look at CERAMIC TILE, ASBESTOS in? , where we discuss ceramic floor tiles that may contain asbestos, the hazards and some recommendations.

At References at the end of this article we cite authoritative sources for that information.

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