It's important to know what materials you are dealing with before you start renovations on an older home or other building. Unfortunately, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, you cannot tell whether tiles contain asbestos just by looking at them. In addition, many older asphalt tiles manufactured between the 1920s and 1960s contain asbestos filler fibers. The only true way to tell if the tiles contain asbestos is by checking the package or having a lab test a piece of the tile for asbestos.
A mineral fiber, asbestos was once a common material in building products, including flooring and roofs, until the 1970s. Exposure to asbestos can result in lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. The risk for health complications increases when the amount of asbestos fibers inhaled increases. When dealing with tiles containing asbestos, proper safety precautions must be followed.
Between the 1920s and 1960s, asbestos fiber fillers were used in asphalt tiles. Asphalt tiles are generally resilient and last for many years. These tiles may contain various coloring, fillers and synthetic fibers, which the asphalt binds together. Designed for use in areas where linoleum would not work, asphalt floor tiles are not as popular as they once were.
Since many older asphalt tiles contain some level of asbestos, finding out if the tiles contain the dangerous fibers is difficult. If you are not sure whether the tile contains asbestos or not, always assume the tiles do until you find out otherwise. Do not sand, drill, scrape or nail the asbestos or asphalt tiles. Damaging the structure of the tiles releases the asbestos into the air. Additionally, the adhesive products used to hold down tiles also were often made with asbestos. So even if the tile is safe, the glue remnants may not be.
The best way to deal with asbestos tiles depends on the shape the tiles are in. If the tiles are broken, damaged or require removal, hire a professional to safely remove and dispose of the tiles. However, if the tiles are in good condition, you can simply cover them with a new floor to prevent the dangerous asbestos from filling the air. Furthermore do not vacuum, sweep or dust asbestos tile debris. Doing so can increase the amount of dangerous fibers in the air. Instead, wet mop the debris.