Asbestos Floor Tiles – Must Know Safety Information and Handling Tips

Asbestos floor tiles can be identified and handled in a safe way. Learn everything you need to know about Asbestos Floor Tiles in this in-depth Haztrainer blog post.

  • The use and history of asbestos floor tiles
  • Change in popularity of asbestos products
  • How to identify asbestos tiles
  • What makes asbestos floor tiles dangerous?
  • What to do if you encounter asbestos floor tiles

The use and history of asbestos floor tiles:
When was asbestos used in floor tiles?

While asbestos has been in use in floor tiles since the early 1900s, the use rose to prominence in the 50s. The flooring tiles became popular in the mid-1900s for many reasons ranging from the glossy sheen to other properties like affordability, stylishness as well as stain and fire resistance.
During the 20th century, many vinyl manufacturers used asbestos alongside other materials to create products with greater strength and insulation. Asbestos-containing materials like floor tiles became popular for their fire-resistance and aesthetic appeal.

Change in popularity of asbestos products

The popularity of asbestos flooring, among other asbestos products, lasted for decades. The “true cost” of these products wasn’t experienced until the ’80s and ’90s, given the long latency associated with diseases linked to asbestos. When asbestos-related cancers and lung diseases began hitting factory workers and tradesmen who had worked with or handled asbestos products, the popularity of asbestos floor tiles and other asbestos products plummeted.

The surge in mesothelioma lawsuits, among other asbestos-linked diseases forced many companies to close down. Today, asbestos ties and related products have been phased out in many jurisdictions. However, many homes and buildings (both commercial and public) constructed before the 1980s still contain old asbestos floor tiles.

How to identify asbestos tiles

Asbestos fibers are microscopic, making them incredibly difficult to see. What’s more, the fibers don’t have a distinct smell. Unless the tiles are clearly marked/labeled, the presence of asbestos can only be established through a lab test. A sample of the tile must be taken for testing in a lab.

Individuals trained to detect and handle asbestos can identify asbestos tiles with ease. In fact, since asbestos-containing products can disintegrate easily and release asbestos fibers in the air, it’s not advisable to handle anything that contains asbestos if you are not trained to do so.

Asbestos tiles fall under non-friable asbestos materials. The tiles don’t crumble or break easily. They include tiles and slabs. If left undisturbed, they are generally safe. However, scraping, smashing, or sawing may release asbestos fibers that resemble thin and long fibrous grayish and whitish crystals that crumble into dust when crushed.

Floor Tile Mastic

asbestos in floor tiles

Floor tile mastic often contains asbestos whether or not the vinyl or asphalt floor tile contains asbestos. This mastic is usually black in appearance and has been applied with a serrated trowel. It is not uncommon for this material to contain Tremolite asbestos but most often will contain Chrysotile asbestos between trace (1% or less) and 3%.

12-inch by 12-inch or 9-inch by 9-inch vinyl or asphalt Floor Tile…
OSHA says all asphalt or vinyl floor tile installed prior to 1980 is Presumed (PACM) to contain asbestos unless sampling proves otherwise. Pretty much all 9-inch by 9-inch contains some amount of asbestos. Typically, it contains less than 5% Chrysotile asbestos. It is common for 12-inch by 12-inch to also contain asbestos especially if it was installed prior to 1980. It is usually less than 3% Chrysotile asbestos.

What makes asbestos floor tiles dangerous?

When intact, tiles or other products containing asbestos aren’t dangerous. Generally, if the tiles are in good condition, they won’t be dangerous because the asbestos is enclosed, preventing the fibers from escaping. Asbestos tiles are made using nonfriable asbestos, which isn’t easily broken.

However, asbestos fibers can be released if the pressure exerted on the tile is excessive or the tile is sanded, cut, or disturbed. When asbestos fibers are inhaled/swallowed over long periods, they have been proven to cause illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and laryngeal cancer. Other malignant diseases linked to asbestos include stomach, colon, and pharyngeal cancer.

Examples of nonmalignant diseases linked asbestos include: asbestosis, atelectasis, pleural thickening, pleural effusion, pericardial effusion, peritoneal effusion, and hyaline pleural plagues.

In the U.S. alone, mesothelioma is the leading cause of asbestos-exposure deaths in workplaces, having killed 45,000+ people (between 1999 & 2015). Approximately 3,000 people get mesothelioma every year in America.

Anyone who comes into contact with tiles containing asbestos is at risk if the tiles disintegrate, and they inhale the fibers. Persons at the highest risk of exposure include: floor installers, demolition crews, maintenance workers, cleaners, and DIY renovators

What to do if you encounter asbestos floor tiles

As mentioned above, it’s hard to recognize asbestos-containing material on sight. As a result, it is advisable to assume any floor tiles made before 1980 have asbestos in them. You should not remove flooring manufactured before 1980 if you aren’t trained to handle asbestos-containing materials.
While floor tiles may not require professional handling since they are nonfriable, the EPA recommends asbestos products to be handled by professionals only.

In fact, OSHA has regulations governing the handling of asbestos-containing materials at work. Employers in sectors like construction, real estate, school maintenance, and housekeeping, among other occupations that involve working/cleaning environments that may contain asbestos, must ensure their workers receive OSHA-certified asbestos awareness training.

Where do you get fast, convenient, and affordable asbestos training awareness for your employees online? offers OSHA-certified asbestos awareness training online. The comprehensive training covers forms, uses,& sources of asbestos, health effects, conditions & concerns, asbestos regulation, as well as management & exposure prevention. asbestos awareness training is very interesting (includes videos and personal experiences). Trainees can also win cash gift cards, access the training anytime (24/7), and ask questions. Trainees also get certificates after completing the training. What’s more – the training is the fastest, easiest, and most affordable way to meet asbestos training requirements.