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The truth about asbestos vinyl flooring

Asbestos Vinyl flooring

Asbestos vinyl flooring was a durable and economical material, that offered many aesthetic options to suit a homeowner’s taste.

Asbestos was used in vinyl wallpaper from the 1920s, and in the vinyl floor tiles and sheet flooring that rose to prominence in the 1950s. Stain-proof, fireproof, stylish and affordable, vinyl products strengthened through the inclusion asbestos in their manufacture were a very popular choice in many Australian houses.

Unfortunately, vinyl tiles and sheet flooring that contain asbestos, pose a potential exposure risk. If the material is in good condition, it normally does not pose a threat, because the asbestos is enclosed in vinyl, preventing the fibres from escaping. The vinyl acts as a binder that holds the asbestos fibres within a solid matrix.

Asbestos containing materials fall into two broad categories: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos materials can easily be reduced to powder when disturbed by hand when they are dry. These materials are more likely to release measurable levels of asbestos into the airborne environment when disturbed, and generally pose a greater risk to health.

'Non-friable', or bonded asbestos is used to refer to asbestos-containing materials in which the asbestos is firmly bound in the matrix of the material. These materials are unlikely to release measurable levels of asbestos fibre into the airborne environment if they are left undisturbed. Therefore, they generally pose a lower risk to health.

In most cases, vinyl tiles are considered non-friable. Floor tiles can become friable if they are mishandled, damaged or are in a badly worn or weathered condition. 

Asbestos vinyl sheet flooring poses a significantly greater asbestos exposure risk than floor tiles or wallpaper. Manufacturers often made this type of flooring with a friable asbestos backing, which means asbestos fibres are easily released into the air if the sheet flooring is disturbed or damaged. The mastics or adhesives used to install vinyl products also often contained asbestos, though asbestos fibres in adhesives are less likely to become airborne.

It is worth noting that floors may have undergone multiple renovations over the years. The common practice being to simply lay new flooring on top of existing flooring. Asbestos containing products can therefore be found in some or all of these multiple layers.

What you NEED to know BEFORE removing asbestos vinyl flooring.

The presence of asbestos does not necessarily pose immediate danger. The danger arises when homeowners undertake renovations and asbestos containing products are damaged, disturbed or sanded. Removing vinyl flooring by sanding or grinding would potentially create a higher risk of asbestos exposure.

New regulations in Australia now specify that homeowners must get an asbestos test before they undertake any renovations. These new regulations also specify that workplaces and businesses must have an asbestos management plan. Business owners also need to be aware of the dangers and of their responsibilities. Businesses need to have an asbestos policy.

Some examples below.