Asbestos was one of the most widely used material in construction until
the mid 80s. In fact, it was used virtually in every structure built
between 1930s and 1980s. It was only in late 80s and somewhere in early
90s, that it came to light that asbestos was hazardous for health due
to its tendency to trigger serious health problems, like asbestosis and
lung cancer, in individuals.
Asbestos, a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that occur
as thin separable fibers, was widely used in vinyl and linoleum floors
for its desirable properties. The properties of this material (and
lack of knowledge about its hazardous effects) contributed to its
popularity back in 70s and 80s. Almost all floor tiles manufactured in
the past few decades until the mid 80's contained asbestos in varying
amounts. (In fact, one of the easiest methods of finding out whether
your home has asbestos, is to find out when it was built. If you have
any doubts, you can send a sample for lab testing for confirmation.)
Some of the most desirable properties of asbestos which added to its popularity were:
Nonconductor of electricity
Manufacturers of floor tiles preferred using asbestos because
asbestos not only made the manufacturing process easier than other
conventional materials, but was extremely durable and cost-effective.
Previously asbestos floor tiles were available in the size 9×9, and more
recently 12×12. These tiles were vinyl-asbestos floor tiles that were
manufactured from polyvinyl chloride polymers.
usually consisted of a mixture of limestone, asbestos, plasticizer,
stabilizer, binder, and pigment. The mixture was heated to temperatures
of 300°F, and fed into a roller to be pressed to the desired
thickness. They were then pressed through cylinders to gain uniform
thickness, after which pigmenting and surface designs were done while
the tiles were still hot and soft. The tiles were then cooled by
immersion in water, water-spraying, or placing them in a cooling unit.
They were then cut into appropriate size and waxed, after which they
were ready for the market. The asbestos fibers gave these tiles the
Heat and fire resistance
Extra strength and durability
Resistance to moisture, oil, grease, acids and alkalies
The ability of these tiles to withstand high temperature prevented
them from cracking. Dimensional stability prevented expansion and
shrinkage during the manufacturing process. Overall manufacturing costs
were low, and that was beneficial to the manufacturer as well as the
Risks Involved with Asbestos Floor Tiles
Simply living in a home with asbestos floor tiles does not mean you run
the risk of asbestos exposure. The asbestos fibers are firmly embedded
into the tiles, and pose no risk unless the tiles are deliberately
broken, and asbestos fibers are allowed to contaminate the air. In some
cases, these tiles may wear out with time due to which the tiny fibers
may contaminate the air and result in asbestos exposure.
you have a wooden flooring beneath the asbestos floor tiles and want to
restore it, you need to be extra cautious. The tiles have to be
removed along with the glue underneath. This must be done with extreme
care, making sure that no power tools are used to remove the tiles as
the use of such tools could damage the tiles and release asbestos in
your home. Many people choose to sand the wooden floor to restore it,
which is again pretty harmful, since asbestos particles embedded in the
glue separate and get airborne.
One way of changing the
flooring is to cover asbestos floor tiles with new non-asbestos tiles
or flooring material. This makes sure that you need not disturb the
asbestos tiles, and therefore the risk of asbestos exposure due to the
floor tiles is eliminated.
Many prefer removing and getting rid
of the old asbestos floor tiles before replacing them with new tiles.
If you are doing this yourself, you have to be very careful. Certain
asbestos tiles will not come off easily, and will require brute force
to dislodge them. This can be risky as the tiles are likely to break
and get splintered, and this, in turn, may release harmful asbestos
fibers in the air. It may take just a day or two to get rid of the old
asbestos tiles and fix new ones, but if the asbestos fibers are
concentrated in the room, it could cause serious health problems much
later in life.