Are old vinyl tile floors dangerous?
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Loose asbestos fibers that can float in the air and be inhaled are called “friable.” Most vinyl flooring manufactured before 1980 contains asbestos but it is embedded in the material and not friable. So the tiles are not considered dangerous as long as they are left undisturbed on the floor.
Removing the tiles, however, can release some asbestos particles into the air and the standard recommendation is to wet the tiles before scraping them up and try to get each tile up without fracturing it. Then bag them securely for disposal. But the safest thing to do is leave them in place and put a new floor over it when you are ready for a new floor covering.
Mid-20th century vinyl tiles with long streaks, like in the photo above, are easily recognizable as being vinyl asbestos. Other tile designs produced during the 1970s, like the floor shown below, also have asbestos content but cannot be visually confirmed by those characteristic patterns. Your should assume that any vinyl tile produced before the 1980 contains asbestos and take precautions to avoid putting fibers in the air during removal, unless it has been lab-tested for asbestos content.
You can determine whether your floor tile contains asbestos by sending a one-inch square sample to a testing lab for examination under a polarized-light microscope. Pro-Lab, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is one lab that can perform the test. Their asbestos sample testing kits are available at Home Depot, Lowes, and most hardware stores. Here’s an example of a recent Pro-Lab report on the tan floor tile above.
Chrysotile is the most common type of asbestos, also called “white asbestos,” and constituted 3% of the tile and 10% of the mastic/adhesive backing of this floor. By the way, old sheet vinyl flooring usually has a higher asbestos content than the vinyl tiles, and sometimes came with an asbestos backing paper that is readily friable when disturbed. So ancient sheet vinyl is in a different category, and should be removed by an asbestos professional.
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