Older floor tiles may contain asbestos, which was added to strengthen the floor and extend its lifespan by increasing its durability. Removing floor tiles that contain asbestos can be hazardous, especially if they are old or damaged. Asbestos fibers can cause severe health problems if you inhale them. If you know or think your floor tiles contain asbestos, it is best to hire a licensed asbestos contractor to remove them. If you must do the work yourself, use the proper equipment and removal methods to reduce your risk of health issues due to asbestos exposure.
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Identifying Asbestos Tiles
Very dark asphalt tiles produced between the 1920s and 1960s can contain as much as 70 percent asbestos by weight. If you are unsure whether your older asphalt tiles contain asbestos, err on the side of caution and use the proper asbestos removal procedures to reduce to your risk of harmful exposure.
Thick vinyl tiles may contain asbestos, as well as newer sheet linoleum. Even if the flooring itself does not contain asbestos, the glues and other adhesives used to secure older flooring may contain asbestos. In general, do not remove, drill, sand or otherwise disturb any tiles or floor covering that you did not install yourself unless the flooring has tested negative for asbestos.
Remove all furniture, shelves, wall hangings and other removable objects from the room where you will be removing the flooring. Asbestos dust could settle on furniture and other objects and be breathed in later. If there are unmovable items in the room that could become contaminated, cover them with a plastic sheet or tarp and secure it with duct tape. Close all the windows and turn off heating and air-conditioning. Seal all vents with plastic and duct tape. Secure plastic sheets over doorways and entryways. Cut a slit in one entryway to allow one point of access in and out of the area. Cover the slit with a sheet of plastic to isolate the entire area.
Purchase disposable coveralls to wear when removing asbestos tiles. Wearing two suits reduces the risk of asbestos fibers even more. You can purchase these coveralls at a hardware or home improvement store. If you cannot find disposable coveralls, wear old clothes that you are willing to throw away at the end of the project.
Make sure your clothing covers your skin as much as possible. Wear rubber gloves and safety goggles at all times during asbestos removal. Do not use a dust mask to cover your face. These do not filter out asbestos fibers. Wear a respirator to ensure you do not breathe in fibers. A respirator must be HEPA filtered or have an N-100, P-100 or R-100 NIOSH rating to be approved for asbestos protection. You can find these ratings on respirator cartridge packages.
Removing the Tiles
Wet your tiles with amended water to make them easier to remove and to reduce the amount of asbestos fibers released into the air. Amended water is water that contains surfactant, a wetting agent, so that it can penetrate your tiles.
Use a hammer and putty knife to pry the tiles up around the edges. Work slowly and gently. Broken tiles release more fibers. Place the old tiles in boxes lined with plastic. Do not use a sander or grinder to remove adhesives from the floor, as this can disturb asbestos fibers. If you need to remove adhesives under the tiles, use amended water or a chemical solvent.
Wipe down the sides of the boxes containing the old tiles, and seal them with duct tape before taking them out of the work area. Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cloth, including the plastic tarps and sheets. You may need to use several buckets of water so that you do not recontaminate the work area.
Dispose of the plastic sheets in sealed plastic garbage bags. Roll your disposable suit up and seal it in a plastic bag. Take a shower, washing your body and hair thoroughly to remove any remaining fibers. Contact your local garbage service to find out where to dispose of materials that contain asbestos.