Most people embarking on renovation of an old house have some understanding about asbestos, however a common area that most people are largely unaware of the dangers of asbestos lurking is vinyl flooring.  Asbestos was widely used in vinyl flooring products, either directly in the matrix of floor tiles or used as a reinforcement to the rear side of asbestos era manufactured vinyl sheeting.

Vinyl types

There are two types of asbestos vinyl floor coverings generally found by most Renovators, firstly the square vinyl tile , very common in a number of colour combinations and overall sizes.  With sheet vinyl being the second most common type of vinyl flooring used.

Each product differs in the way it contains asbestos, vinyl tiles generally contain between 8-30% asbestos fibres as part of the tile matrix; whereas manufacturers of vinyl sheeting sometimes incorporated a felt-like ‘backing’ for cushioning purposes. It is this
backing which contains asbestos (typically 80–100
per cent asbestos).

Vinyl sheeting is the product of higher risk to Renovators, particularly as the unsuspecting person is more likely to ‘tear’ or ‘rip’ the sheeting apart in an effort to remove it; this process leads to the asbestos fibres within the backing becoming very readily friable and at greater risk of being inhaled or otherwise ingested into the unsuspecting person.

Adhesives

Vinyl flooring products manufactured during the asbestos era were generally affixed to the sub-flooring in one of three ways: (1) directly affixed to the timber or concrete sub-floor of the structure with either a yellow or clear coloured adhesive (these will generally test negative for the presence of asbestos), (2) affixed to an intermediate brown-type board (eg Masonite, Burnie Board etc) using either a yellow or clear adhesive, applied to the back of either the tile or sheet backing to secure it to the intermediate board (which was generally secured to the timber or other type of sub-floor prior to application of the asbestos containing vinyl product).

Lastly method (3),  use of a black sticky type of adhesive (nick named ‘black-jack’ in the trade) – this product, if present will in MOST cases test positive for the presence of at least one asbestos fibre type (generally there are more than one type of asbestos fibres combined within this adhesive product); a combination of asbestos fibres were used to give the adhesive strength and ensure durability.

Removal

Whilst the qualities of strength and durability were great during the lifespan of the product, they now pose a serious issue for the today’s Renovator tasked with their safe removal.

In most instances asbestos tiles affixed with either a yellow, or clear (non-‘black-jack’) adhesive can generally safely be removed by an experienced B Class licensed Asbestos Removalist.  Testing of the adhesive present at a NATA accredited laboratory will easily confirm whether or not the adhesive used contains asbestos.

However if dealing with either an asbestos containing paper-backed vinyl sheeting, or if individual tiles are affixed with an asbestos containing adhesive – removal of these products should only be undertaken by an experienced A Class Licensed Asbestos Removal Company – ensuring that safe Friable (A Class) removal practices are followed; this removal process (per Government published Code of Practices) should also include a minimum of Clearance Air Monitoring (to ensure that there are no airborne fibres detected after completion of the asbestos products) and a thorough visual inspection is completed, prior to the preparation and issuance of a Clearance Certificate by an experienced and licensed Asbestos Assessor.

Useful information

Link to How to Remove Safely Remove Asbestos – Code of Practice Queensland 2011

How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice 2011 (worksafe.qld.gov.au)

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