How worried should I be about asbestos under linoleum floor?
January 12, 2015 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I have a ceramic tile which was placed over a linoleum floor which I assume was placed over something with asbestos. The tile is in fine condition. The only possible exposure is at the edge. This floor used to abut a carpeted hallway. A few years ago, I pulled up the carpet in the hallway. The edges of all the current and historical floors and sub-floors in the kitchen have been exposed since then. How seriously do I need to take this?

The linoleum was covered with the tile about 20 years ago and the linoleum is almost certainly more than 35 years old, but perhaps a fair amount older.

Here's an album. There's a layer of ceramic tile on top. Then, there's a layer of whatever that tile was laid over, some cement like thing? Then, there's the linoleum floor. Beneath that, there's mostly a dark space. It looks like maybe something wore away? I'm pretty sure nothing's been gradually falling away from that edge in visible chunks. Maybe, it came up with the carpet. Across that space, about one inch is filled to the edge, so that layer probably came up to the edge along the entire 35" edge at some point. Beneath that is a mystery layer, maybe an even earlier linoleum floor? The lowest visible layer is plywood. I think. The first picture has a few visible chunks on the hallway floor. Those are mainly dog biscuit debris, which you can see moved to the ceramic tile in the second picture. However, there are tiny little specks of mystery material.

Have I contaminated my entire house? It is just the edge, but the exposure has been prolonged. I'll throw clothes towards the laundry shoot and the pile will straddle that border. Is asbestos in my clothes? I cleaned away (some of) the dog hair visible in the first picture with a napkin. Can I just wash that and not be afraid of it? Have I tracked it onto my carpet (in dangerous quantity)? Has it infiltrated my ventilation?

Do I need to call a professional? I'm afraid that they'll come in determined to tent my house, burn all of my possessions and Silkwood-shower my dog . How do I know what remediation, if any, is really necessary and what's just FUD?

Is this something I should mention to my doctor so that it's in my file?

Or, am I blowing this out of proportion? Maybe, it doesn't matter whether there's even any asbestos there to begin with. In the bottom image, you can see a piece of wood that I bought to cap this edge. Can I just nail it to the layer of plywood, caulk it up, paint it and call it a day?
posted by stuart_s to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
How old is the building? That doesn't look like asbestos to me. Are you sure it's not horsehair?

Have a look here.
posted by slkinsey at 1:18 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

slkinsey, I think that's dog hair on the floor. The asbestos would be in the layer below the linoleum (which is below the modern top layer of tile).

Last time I lived somewhere with asbestos building materials, all the research I did suggested that in general things like this are safe unless disturbed. I would wipe it off, put a layer of tape or something over the cut edge of the tile, replace the quarter round threshold and forget about it.
posted by pullayup at 1:30 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, for what it's worth, you can take a sample of the tile and send it to a lab for analysis yourself if you really want to know if it contains asbestos. If I recall correctly I used Western Analytical .
posted by pullayup at 1:33 PM on January 12, 2015

(on preview, I will just second everything that puyallup said)
posted by misterbrandt at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2015

I'm not a professional but I think it should be fine. Our house was built in the 60s and we too have asbestos flooring in some parts so we had an asbestos guy come check it out. He said as long as it's not broken and exposed, it's fine. This is why you will often find older houses have a layer of asbestos that someone has tiled over. It's safe while it's in tact but removing it is what frees the nasty fibres and if you don't have to remove it, then people leave it if they can keep it in tact.

In your last photo, it looks like there has been some kind moulding put on. If you want to feel more secure, take that trim off and brush a layer of glue or whatever on the exposed/broken edge to seal it off, then put the trim back on.

Stay cool honey bunny, it's people who had years of unfiltered exposure to asbestos fibres who are at risk. Don't worry about your laundry pile etc.
posted by stellathon at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't panic. I thought this was going to be a COMPLETELY different issue. I taught in a classroom with an asbestos backed carpet that was so old it was held together with chewing gum and masking tape. I called OSHA and the union and it was met with a resounding 'meh.'

In our basement we had asbestos backed tiles and the advice we got was, "don't mess with them, you can tile over them. Which is what I did.

Wipe it down and cover the edge with duct tape just to be on the safe side.

I don't think this is a haz-mat situation. Your current flooring is Non-Friable, which is not an environmental danger.

BTW, judging by that adorable snout, your doggie looks like a sweetie!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2015

My bona fides on this are that I am an environmental attorney with 20+ years experience. I have to agree with pullayup, stellathon and Ruthless Bunny. I would certainly be careful about how I disposed of the dust (don't, e.g., use a vacuum; brush it up and put it in a Ziploc). Seal over the exposed edge and forget about it. The tile flooring is encapsulating any asbestos-containing material (ACM) and as stellathon and Ruthless Bunny suggest, disturbing the (potential) ACM is more likely to result in exposure than leaving it encapsulated. If/when you remodel the floor, consider having an asbestos inspector collect (safely) samples of the underlying floor tile and mastic (tile glue that also often contains asbestos).

If you want to avoid any doubt or lost sleep at all, hire a professional asbestos contractor to do the cleaning and sealing, but I seriously don't think it's worth the cost.

That said, if the original flooring is asphalt linoeleum put down over 35 years ago, then it would be presumed to contain asbestos absent testing or other strong evidence to the contrary. Most asbestos-containing building materials were voluntarily removed from the market in 1980 (only a handful of products actually were legally banned), and OSHA considers pre-1981 insulating and building materials to be presumed ACM.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 1:55 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

It really doesn't look like asbestos (licensed architect here). And as everyone above is saying: seal it up, forget about it, and nothing will happen.
However, since I'm an architect, I would strongly recommend to get rid of all the layers and start over with whatever finish you prefer. This would include getting a lab test of the layer you are worried about and acting accordingly. The reason I don't like layers upon layers is that if anything happens, like a flood or your laundry machines spilling over, water or other substances may get trapped between the layers and create an environment where bad things can thrive for ages before you even realize anything is wrong.
Once I did cover over an undocumented flooring, I overlooked that there was no insulation under that floor, and the whole house was both cold and damp till the family eventually tore up the floor and started over. My cheap solution hadn't damaged anything, but it was an expense that wasn't worth it at all in the long run. (The client had wanted the cheapest possible design in the first round, so they carried the responsibility).
posted by mumimor at 2:16 PM on January 12, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the reassurance, everybody.

It looks like we're reaching a consensus , but I can't tell whether I may have poorly described one detail and if a couple answerers may be basing their responses on it. (Sorry to be a pest, but a million mesothelioma commercials have really burrowed into my brain.)

That piece of wood in the last picture was only there for as long as it took to take the picture. I bought it a couple days ago. I was hoping that it might be a long term solution to my problem. Judging from the trend in answers, it seems like I was right, but it also seems like some of the answers assume that that wood was there all along. If it had been, I never would have worried about this in the first place.

Does this change anyone's answer? That wood may contain the asbestos under the floor, but have I (or my house) been contaminated?

You'd think with all this anxiety, I'd have taken enough time to get better pictures. None of them actually showed the layer where I think the asbestos would probably be - the layer just under the linoleum. I just added another picture where you can actually see that layer, for whatever it's worth.

Thanks again.
posted by stuart_s at 2:20 PM on January 12, 2015

I would not worry about the house other than to damp mop and call it a day.
posted by checkitnice at 2:22 PM on January 12, 2015

To put your mind at ease seal everything up as described above but first get it tested for asbestos professionally. Then get an asbestos air test which will check for fibres in the air. That cost me $500, but your price may vary I guess.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 3:25 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am also a licensed architect, which means nothing for asbestos abatement. It's a very specialized field and there are others who can offer expert advice.

The short story is: Asbestos is only a problem when it is disturbed and airborne. The micro fibers of the material can get embedded in the lungs which is where the health concerns arise. Unless you are planning on tearing up the floor at some point, full encapsulation is the best answer. The tile will prevent the disturbance. The exposed edge can be painted over, or if you are really concerned you could first apply a fiberlock spray, then paint over the exposed material. But I also agree that getting an air test is a great option if you are really concerned.

My non-professional opinion is...don't worry about it and seal it up. If you ever plan on remodeling, make sure you voice your concerns.
posted by Benway at 5:48 PM on January 12, 2015

I really don't think you have to worry if you aren't tearing up the floor. I work in the architecture department of an organization that owns enough older buildings to have a full-time engineer on staff to handle asbestos testing, abatement, and other hazmats. When we start projects, he reviews the buildings and work that we're planning and tests anything suspicious that might be disturbed. I've seen him take samples of vinyl asbestos flooring for testing and there's no gear involved - he finds a loose piece or cuts one off with a box cutter, sticks it in a plastic baggie, and that's it. Asbestos tile flooring is actually fine to continue using, we have it in many of our buildings. You just can't sand or cut it with something that produces dust (like a saw) so removing it is a specialized process. But daily use is no issue, even when it's the top layer (assuming it isn't somehow falling to dust/flakes, which I've never seen).

I do think you should put a threshold there to transition between the hallway and kitchen, but only so you don't trip. I think one slightly thicker than what you have and tapered would be less of a tripping hazard. I think they sell them by the molding section in Home Depot/Lowes.
posted by sepviva at 7:27 PM on January 12, 2015

My experience with calling for quotes on asbestos testing in my newly-purchased house was that having someone come out would cost hundreds to low thousands of dollars (contractors and specialists had regulations-mandated minimums of samples they had to take from a given suspected square footage), but taking my own sample using a spray bottle of water, a utility knife, a plastic bag and a mask was easy, and for under $25 I could take or send it to a lab for complete, asbestos-free peace of mind.

I don't miss you, popcorn ceilings!
posted by deludingmyself at 8:35 PM on January 12, 2015

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