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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Question

We have tile on our floors and we don’t know if they are rubber, rubber-asbestos, or just what. They were put down back in the late 50’s and are brown with white, black, and darker brown. How can we find out just what they are made of?


Answer

Short of sending a sample to a test lab, I don’t know of any sure way. However, most old 8 inch square tile from those days are probably an asbestos or vinyl-asbestos composition. I would not suspect rubber.
These may be treated as you would any other floor tile. Scrub and recoat or strip, if necessary. Put down a good quality finish to seal and protect the surface. Pick a finish. It will likely work. Do a test area if you are concerned.
There has been a big concern because asbestos was used in many flooring products in the “old days”. Don’t fall victim to the fear-spreading idiots who have never looked up “friable” in the dictionary. It means simply, easily crumbled or brittle, the danger being with something that it is broken into small enough particles to be released into the air and be inhaled, possibly causing lung problems after prolonged exposure.
Even tile removed from a floor doesn’t fit this description or pose this risk, and when you see floor tiles airborne, you have a more immediate concern than asbestos fragments.
With that in mind, refinishing of even asbestos tiles, if not done dry to abrade the surface and possibly release components to the air, is safe and sensible. Does anyone really do that work dry? If the floor is in good condition, preserve it even longer with proper protection and maintenance.

Lynn E. Krafft, ICAN/ATEX Editor
lekrafft@juno.com