Asbestos was used widely in past. In fact there were more than 3,600 product which contained asbestos primarily because of its strength and insulating properties. One major areas of asbestos usage was constriction industry. Buildings and houses constructed in or before 1980s have been found to have asbestos in them in form of floor tiles, insulation, roof tiles, shingles, pipes, etc. Among all, tiles have been one very common product which contained asbestos in it.
Asbestos floor tiles – the history
Asbestos tiles have been in market for a long duration. There were asbestos based vinyl asbestos tiles as far as in 1950s. Till the time asbestos's impact on health was well proved, asbestos was an integral part of tiles. This was because asbestos provided the tile strength, resistance to moisture, heat, fire and abrasions. These all were very important properties for a tile to have. These tiles used vinyl as binder. These tiles which came in sizes such as 9×9 inches and 12×12 inches were hugely popular and can still be found in most of the homes constructed before 1980s.
How dangerous are such tiles?
Based on guidelines by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such tiles fall under normally fall under non friable asbestos materials. It means in general they do not pose health risk. This is because Vinyl binds with asbestos fibre very tightly and thus giving little possibility to asbestos fibres to release in air. But the story does not ends here. In case these tiles are in bad shape, broken, cut, drilled, sawed, etc. then there are chances of asbestos release from these tiles. In such situations, the material may become friable.
A friable asbestos material has more than 1 percent of asbestos content and can be crumbled, pressurized, broken just by using hand pressure. Thus a previously perfect floor tile when is broken can become friable.
What to do with asbestos tiles?
This depends a lot on what is the condition of asbestos tiles. If the asbestos tiles are in good condition (pay special attention in checking corners of the houses, near doors, etc. that's where maximum damage happens to the tile) then best thing is to do nothing. As there is little chance of any harm in such a case.
But if you find places where the tile is broken, or renovation required you to drill the tile or saw it then there are chances that the tile(s) may prove dangerous. Send a sample of such a tile for testing to authorized testing labs. Based on the lab report if the asbestos proves to be dangerous then in this situation there are generally two options available:
- removal of asbestos tiles: this may be removing the damaged ones or the complete floor tiles
- putting another non -asbestos flooring above the asbestos tiles. This will ensure the asbestos tiled are not exposed and no more dangerous.
Precautions while removing asbestos tiles
Removing asbestos tiles is a complex and dangerous process and should only be done by experienced and professional asbestos abatement agency. Some general precautions which are taken in such cases include:
- Not using power tools (drills, saws, etc.)
- Remove all home furniture. If a few things cannot be removed cover them with poly and sealed with tape.
- Keeping the tiles wet so that fibres do not escape
- Cover the area and isolate it. Cover windows and doors too
- Turn off heating and air conditioning
The removal of asbestos tiles is generally done using a hammer and putty knife. The process starts from the edges of the tile. Once the tiles are removed along with the adhesive, they are kept in poly bags. After the removal the complete areas is cleaned multiple times using damp cloth. Cleaning every corner and every place is absolutely required to ensure there is no asbestos dust left.
Putting another non-asbestos tile cover
This method is popular is the condition of the existing tiles are good. Asbestos tile abatement can be complex and expensive process. Putting another tile layer in most cases is economical and safe too. make sure that while doing so the tiles below are not broken, drilled, sawed etc. One can also use wall to wall carpet over the tiles. This will also ensure tiles are not exposed and thus not damaged.
Word of caution
Do not handle asbestos yourself unless you are properly trained to do so. A small mistake can cause big health trouble later to you and your family. In the end, we have asbestos all around us, and as its not yet banned, we are going to see more of it in future too. The best way to deal with it to be knowledgeable about it and take required precautions when needed.