Linoleum and asbestos

karinlApril 6, 2010

Well, you know what they say... if you can't be a blinding success, be a horrible example. So I'm here to remind you all to lock these two words together in your brain if you haven't already done so: linoleum and asbestos.

In the nearly 20 years we've owned this old house, I have frequently counted my blessings that we do not seem to have any asbestos.

I think of asbestos as the stuff they used to wrap pipes. So it was probably a good thing that the area of the basement where I was on my hands and knees hacking away to remove some old linoleum was right around all the pipes. As I brushed the rust off them I thought of asbestos, and suddenly something about nature of the backing of the linoleum connected with some old factoids in my brain... I rushed up to the computer to check and yup. That's your classic '70s linoleum with white backing right there. Dummy.

I hadn't given linoleum much thought because we don't really have any linoleum, just this one fragment left in the old basement laundry room, a piece maybe two feet wide, six feet long. Clearing the room was spur of the moment project, making it up as we went along. Removing the leftover bit of linoleum just one item in passing.

There are some comforting aspects... it is the basement, not a bedroom, not much airflow or traffic, DS wasn't home until I'd figured it out and HEPA vacuumed myself and the areas of the house I'd been in and carefully dealt with my clothes. And I hadn't been in his room. Plus, fortunately for myself, I always work with a mask.

But the comforting aspects aren't the ones that you think about as you lie in bed at night :-)

Play safe out there,


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The 9x9 composition floor tiles (like from the 40's & 50's) are asbestos-laden, not just the backs.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 10:45PM
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My house has this too, however, POs laid ceramic tile over it. One day, I plan on having it removed and restored the original hardwood-floor that is under all of this.

How does one approach this job due to the asbestos problem? I have been able to see that I actually have two layers of linoleum on top of heart-pine floors. Lucky me....

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 12:23PM
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Stephen Costa

I had very old continuous-sheet kitchen linolem tested in our reno house and it was 40% asbestos! Stuff was on the counters too.

I called in the pros and had a professional abatement. Had the whole kitchen in a tent, and the air tested arfter to make sure it was safe.

Get it tested and don't remove the tiles yourself.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 1:08AM
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Motoq2000: What is an approximate cost for that job? Curious as to what I will be looking at down the road.

I don't want to fool with the pros!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 6:47PM
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An interesting discussion.
Interesting because it has mixed two distinctly different products, VAT (vinyl asbestos (9x9) tile and linoleum, and completely ignored cut-back adhesive.

These three products, as with all products containing asbestos as the binding agent only atain a "hazardos" status when they become friable, iE airborne.
Since there was a lack of consistency, state to state, for the remediation of these products, encapsulation became the method of choice and so, many have been simply covered over with "safe" products.

The simple test that determines whether or not cut-back adhesive is present is to spill boiling water on an exposed area. If the water puddles, you have cut-back adhesive, if the adhesive melts, you do not.
The solution in the removal process is to keep the area moistened which will serve to prevent the binder from becoming friable.
There are also several products which work quite well for adhesive removal.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 2:17AM
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"These three products, as with all products containing asbestos as the binding agent only atain a "hazardos" status when they become friable, iE airborne."

'Friable' as defined by the EPA means that you can crush the material with your bare hands to release fibers.

While the fibers may become airborne, that is not part of the definition of friable.

It is actually pretty hard to release any asbestos fibers from flooring (and cutback) without grinding the stuff up (like sanding the surface).

Simple fracturing of asbestos floor tile does not release anything.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 8:59AM
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"been there, done that" too. Saintpfla asked about the cost. I imagine that it will vary depending upon the availability of qualified contractors in your area, how much removal/abatement you need to have done and your state regulations. You can find out about certified contractors and their State "ratings" on your state's environmental agency website. We are in rural/mountain CO and our contractor was from Denver, 200 miles away - although they had been doing jobs in our area. Anyway, we had 2 large heating ducts wrapped in the asbestos laden "blankets" (one was 80%!!), and our sheet vinyl kitchen flooring from the 70's tested hot (can't remember the %, but not as high as the duct insulation!). I don't recall if the flooring was the flooring, backing or adhesive only, but we decided to have it professionally addressed since we had knowlegde of it and since we had to have the ducts professionally removed/abated anyway. The kitchen floor is about 15x15, the subject ducts were not very long (maybe 25 feet each). The pros seemed to do an excellent job with the negative air (or whatever it is called), plastic tenting etc. and they were great people too. We were out of the house two nights. The cost was around $6,000 three years ago.

My own feeling was that it made me sick to spend $6,000 just to have something removed and not "get" something new for the house! But, it was just one of those things... had to be done. The guy we initially consulted with to obtain the test and advice on a contractor did say that homeowners remove vinyl flooring with (likely) asbestos backing DIY pretty frequently and mentioned trying not to break it in many pieces and applying water also during removal. In fact, DH removed vinyl flooring in our (much smaller) old bath and we didn't test it... so who knows. By the way, in our state, if you know you have asbestos there are only certain, certified landfills that you are supposed to use for disposal.

We do have a certificate that we had the asbestos professionally removed and that the air was tested afterward, etc. So, if someone is likely to sell their home that might be useful. We did "buy" some "insurance" I guess, that we won't get lung cancer. (Heavy sigh).

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 12:16PM
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....sorry, I blacked-out for a minute and wasn't able to finish reading beyond the phrase, "spend $6k just to have something removed..."....


I may rethink my plan of ever removing it now!

Thanks for sharing your info with me! I do appreciate it!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 7:49PM
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Posted by brickeyee (My Page) on Tue, Apr 13, 10 at 8:59
"These three products, as with all products containing asbestos as the binding agent only atain a "hazardos" status when they become friable, iE airborne."


And when the fibers are released, where are they released too, what medium?



We are pretty much in agreement regarding the EPA's take on this subject and the confiscatory regulations imposed.


I think that that depends upon ones interpretation of fractured.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 8:06PM
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'Friable' refers only to the fracturing of the material with bare hands.

Fibers may or may not be released.

The assumption is that any materiel that is easily crushed with bare hands has a possibility of releasing fibers.
It does not mean it will release fibers.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 8:49PM
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And again,"And when the fibers are released, where are they released too, what medium?"

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 12:24PM
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The dangers of short term asbestos exposure are minimal and even less in something not prone to becoming airborne such as vinyl, siding, or roofing materials. In Florida homeowners are allowed to remove their own asbestos. I (and some great friends) removed all the roofing tiles from my house and hauled them to the dump where they were buried. I just removed the old 70's sheet vinyl from my family room and kitchen. I do not live in any great fear that I will have tremendous health problems in the future. Our house also has asbestos siding, but that will just get painted and left in place (it has never been painted).

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 11:12AM
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gosh If only people knew way back when how much drama it would cause people in the future to have to deal with removing things containing asbestos....

I have old vinyl tiles in the kitchen, I'm fairly sure they date back to the 60s or 70s and from what I've read they very likely have asbestos in the backing. I have no idea what to do with them, they need replacing but I just dont want to start pulling them up, so I'll either have to pay someone to remove them safely or maybe just put new flooring over the top and not disturb them.

at least the asbestos in my house if fairly minimal compared to some houses made almost entirely of "azzy" as we call it. It was probably a great product at the time but what a pain it has caused years later.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 7:36AM
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Well you can bye into the EPA hype, ignore it, or just employ a little common sence.
You can pay a high priced remediation CO., ignore your own risk assesment, or follow one of several common sence solutions.
You can install another flooring material over it, ie ecapsulating it.
You can remove it yourself reducing the element of exposure by maintaining a moist film in the area being addressed.
Use the test described earlier to determine the type of adhesive you have and proceed with tha appropriate removal for that product.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 8:35AM
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"Well you can bye into the EPA hype, ignore it or..."

you should never ignore the risks of disturbing asbestos. there have been a number of cases of mesothelioma in my country (where asbestos was widely used in the past) which resulted from asbestos exposure - it has a real potential to kill you years after you have been exposed so to advise anyone to "ignore the hype" is just irresponsible imo.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 10:35AM
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An update on my opening story might help people facing the situation, as indeed I still am, given that I only removed half the linoleum that day.

At dinner with my parents a few days later I was telling them the story and they began to relate their asbestos stories... apparently, the house we moved into when I was 13 had the darn stuff all over the place and they removed it. I think at best they would have worked with filter masks if any, and of course it would have gotten all over the house and I would have breathed it in at that vulnerable age. Then there were the car restoration projects my dad did when I was much younger... and neither I nor either of my parents has any sign of impaired lung function some 40 years later.

It is certainly apparent that the bulk of asbestos induced disease results from very heavy dust exposure, and equally obvious that, given its mechanism of action, a single fibre or two could do some damage in a susceptible individual with bad luck. Obviously, I could be that person, but I also have to get through however many days I have left with some measure of mental stability, so I have to sleep. On that basis, since I first realized what I was dealing with and did some research, I have begun to think a little more like SSJimbo above and concluded that I do some other riskier things in my life (like driving) and so can probably live through this.

I've also decided that I will remove the remainder of the linoleum - carefully - working wet, trying to remove large pieces, not scraping off the backing but just painting over what's left on the floor (thank heavens it's a basement), curtaining off the work area, and working in one session and then washing my clothes right away rather than breaking for lunch, a phone call, or to browse on the computer in my work clothes all over the house, which is what I did before. And with a respirator; why not, it's lying around anyway.

For other people contemplating paying for expert removal at great cost, read up on what the experts do. It's not rocket science. At some points in life and with some projects it may be way too complicated for DIY, but right now for this project, I can do this.

The funniest part of all this (and I'm currently fighting a bed bug infestation in my mother-in-law's apartment, so you have to excuse my need to find some relief in humour) is that in the midst of my asbestos-induced panic about the basement flooring, I looked up at the basement ceiling that I have somehow avoided really thinking about at for 17 years and saw... popcorn.

Popcorn that we disturbed when we renovated the main floor with new plumbing and wiring. Popcorn that we bump into and knock little bits off of from time to time. Popcorn that is kind of powdery and... friable.

Popcorn that likely contains asbestos. Sigh. But somehow, we're still alive and not coughing. And whether that's a DIY project is another question altogether.

PS see the organizing forum for more on bed bugs if interested.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 11:33AM
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trancegemini_wa (My Page) on Wed, Apr 21, 10 at 10:35
"so to advise anyone to "ignore the hype" is just irresponsible imo."

I did not, and If thats all you gleaned from my post, I suggest you read it again.
Perhaps you'll find that there were 3 choices.
None of them up to me.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 11:14PM
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"'ignore the hype' is just irresponsible imo. "

A huge amount of the 'hype' has been created by the plaintiff's bar to squeeze money out of asbestos manufacturing firms.

They would have you believe that unlike every other danger you can be exposed to, dose has no bearing on risk (the 'single fiber' theory).

" there have been a number of cases of mesothelioma in my country (where asbestos was widely used in the past) which resulted from asbestos exposure "

This is the important part.

"Widely used" would generally mean industrial use with prolonged and repeated exposures.

There is little argument that this under this type of exposure asbestos IS dangerous.

The large issue still remains limited or single exposures.

'The dose makes the poison' is an old medical saying.

Excessive water or salt can kill as surely as cyanide.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2010 at 8:48AM
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