If you have asbestos floor tiles used in your home flooring, you need to understand that asbestos exposure – which occurs when you are exposed to tiny asbestos fibers which disintegrate and spread in the air, can be hazardous for your health.
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. By then however, it was already an important part of all the standing structures wherein it was used in flooring, walls, ceiling and even the roof.
Why Asbestos Was Used in Floor Tiles?
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:
- Heat resistance
- Fire resistance
- Chemical resistance
- Nonconductor of electricity
- Highly durable
- Sound absorbent
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.
These tiles 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. These fibers gave these tiles the following properties.
- Heat and fire resistance
- Abrasion resistance
- Extra strength and durability
- Added flexibility
- Resistance to moisture, oil, grease, acids and alkalies
- Dimensional stability
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 end user.
Risks Involved with Asbestos Floor Tiles
Simply living in a home with asbestos 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.
If you have a wooden flooring beneath these 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 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.
Precautions While Changing Asbestos Floor Tiles
Taking into consideration the harmful effects of asbestos exposure from floor tiles, you need to be extra careful when you are removing them. If you are removing asbestos floor tiles yourself, there are certain precautions that you need to take to minimize the risk of asbestos fibers contaminating the air.
- Never sand asbestos floor tiles or the glue under it.
- Never use any power tool that could damage the tiles.
- Before removing the tiles, soak the entire floor with plenty water for at least 30 minutes. If some fibers escape in the process of removal, they will be too heavy to rise in the air if they are water-soaked.
- If there is dust while removing the tiles, never use a vacuum cleaner. Doing so will reintroduce them into the air.
- All cleaning should be done with a soaking wet mop.
- All materials used for cleaning should be transferred immediately to polythene bags and tightly sealed for disposal. (Please label these polythene bags appropriately.)
It is always better and safe to rely on professionals when it comes to getting your asbestos flooring changed. They know exactly how the flooring was put, and what is the best method to remove it. They will ensure that minimum asbestos fibers are introduced in the air while changing the flooring. Depending on the place where you reside and the size of the room from which you intend to remove asbestos tiles, it will cost you anywhere between $500-$2000 – if you go for a reputed company to get the job done.
Hiring professionals to get your asbestos flooring changed will be expensive, but considering the health risks involved, it is surely worth it. More importantly, the people you hire will also take care of asbestos floor tiles disposal as per your state rules. In this way, you will easily get rid of this hazardous material from your home as well as the environment.