Removing Old Linoleum Can Release Asbestos – On the House

Removing Old Linoleum Can Release Asbestos

By on March 26, 2014


One of your recent columns was seriously flawed. The instructions you gave in regard to ripping up old linoleum left one seriously important factor out. I am appalled at this.

We are all familiar with the dangers created by the presence of asbestos in any building – residential, commercial or public. Old linoleum is a major source of asbestos. Removing it requires very special attention, the help of some good Asbestos Removal Specialists is very much needed!

Ripping it up can release untold numbers of microscopic pieces of friable asbestos into the air.

Removal to avoid danger is hardly a do-it-yourself project.



You’re right and we’re thankful for your comments. Asbestos is dangerous, and its proper removal is an important issue. However, if proper techniques are used by the do-it-yourselfer, the danger of exposure to asbestos resulting from the removal of small quantities of vinyl asbestos tile or sheeting from the home is not as great as when removing other materials containing the deadly fibers. By virtue of quantity, removing 60,000 square-feet of tile from a floor in a school or other commercial building poses substantially more danger than the same process in a 50 square-foot bathroom. The degree of asbestos contained in a given building material factored with the amount of the material to be removed determine the degree of danger. Improper removal of any asbestos material in any quantity can be dangerous. However, special apparatus used to create air-tight conditions, and expensive filtration devices used to sterilize the air, are not required for most small home flooring removal projects.

If certain precautions are taken, asbestos flooring can be removed safely by the do-it-yourselfer – without the need for special equipment and without the expense of an abatement contractor. The trick during removal is to keep the asbestos confined to the material which contains it. This is not terribly difficult to do with flooring.

Vinyl asbestos flooring comes in two types, tiles and sheeting.

Tiles are safer to remove than the sheeting because the asbestos is held together by the vinyl (which is not hazardous). Vinyl asbestos tiles should not be sanded, and the glue that holds the tiles to the floor should not be sanded either. Sanding will release dangerous quantities of asbestos into the air. Some floor adhesives contain asbestos. Hence, the same precautions need to be taken with the glue as with the tile.

The safe way to remove the tiles and the glue is with a floor scraper (looks like a large putty knife on a shovel handle) and warm water. Scrape the residue left after popping up the tiles – don’t sand it. If sanding is required the services of an abatement contractor should be enlisted.

If the tiles are glued to a layer of underlayment, then the underlayment should also be removed. Removing large sections of the underlayment will reduce the amount of asbestos released. The underlayment should be wet with water before removal. Dry asbestos particles are lighter than air – wet ones are less prone to become air-borne.

Asbestos vinyl sheet flooring can be more dangerous to remove than tiles if proper precautions are not practiced.

Asbestos vinyl sheet flooring has two layers, a top layer of vinyl and a bottom layer made from paper (that contains asbestos). We are told that the paper layer can contain from 40 to 70 percent asbestos. In the case of wood floors the paper layer is usually glued to a removable layer called underlayment (resides between the paper layer and the subfloor). And in the case of concrete floors the paper layer is glued directly to the concrete.

During removal, pulling the vinyl layer away from its paper backing must be avoided as much as possible. Separating the two layers could possibly release a dangerous level of asbestos into the air.

On wood floors the vinyl sheet flooring should be removed in large sections with a pry bar (removing the underlayment while the flooring is still affixed to it). This keeps the paper layer encapsulated between the vinyl layer above and the underlayment below.

On concrete floors, the flooring should be scraped off with a floor scraper using warm water to loosen the adhesive as you go. The moisture will soften the adhesive and help reduce the amount of asbestos released into the air.

Folks licensed in asbestos abatement tell us that removing the floor in large chunks is reasonably safe. However, breaking it into little tiny pieces during the process could be dangerous.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines for asbestos abatement allow for small amounts of asbestos containing material to be removed from a home without the use of special procedures or equipment (vacuum chamber, special breathing apparatus, filtering devices, etc). Use the list at the end of this article to call for more information.

Barbara Cohrssen, industrial hygienist and environmental health consultant from Cohrssen Environmental in San Francisco, CA, tells us that “proper removal procedures are extremely important”, and that, “some people will do anything to save a dollar. However, it may not be the safest way to do it.”

The French actually did a study some years back which showed that sweeping vinyl asbestos tile with a broom released small (but measurable) amounts of asbestos. This caused us some concern until we found out that a similar study was done here in the United States, and those results were negative. That is, sweeping tests made in the U.S. did not cause asbestos to be released from vinyl asbestos flooring material.

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