History and Overview of the Tile Setter Trade
The tile setter trade is often considered a craft, in which highly skilled artisans cobble together intricate articulations of their artistic imaginations. Tile setters are among the few tradespeople for whom formal training, apprenticeships and/or schooling is preferred (though not always required) by employers. However, tile-setting endeavors are often simple enough that relatively unskilled homeowners and designers are all-too-willing to attempt it themselves in certain remodeling and renovating projects. There are currently about 35,000 professional tile setters employed in the United States, most of whom work for flooring retailers or contractors.
Though mosaic tile floors date back to ancient times, it wasn't until 12th Century France when ornately arranged tile floors began appearing in churches and cathedrals. Tiling material then phased through many materials in subsequent centuries - preferences changed from clay to wood and marble before arriving at the largely pre-fabricated, mass-produced tiles of today. Unfortunately, due to its light weight, low cost and fire resistant properties, asbestos became a widely used material in the US production of tile beginning in the 1920's with the introduction of asphalt asbestos tile, peaking in the mid-20th Century with the popularity of vinyl-asbestos tile. As we shall see, working with asbestos-containing tile and tiling materials is a risky venture which can lead to the contraction of a fatal asbestos-related disease called mesothelioma.
Tile Setters at Risk for Asbestos Exposure on the Job
Many of the materials tile setters work with - including vinyl, vinyl sheet, rubber or asphalt floor tiles and any associated paper-like backing, mastic, adhesive or glue - may contain asbestos. In fact, if a tile floor was installed before 1980, it is quite probable that the tile and/or adhesive contain asbestos. As an example, studies show that products like 9"x 9" floor tile contain asbestos about 95% of the time. Similarly, acoustic ceiling tile can also contain asbestos. Tile setters who have installed hard tile to floors, ceilings, and roof decks before 1980 or currently work with or around such materials are in danger of inhaling deadly asbestos fibers, released into the air as fine particulates whenever these tiles are sawed, scraped, sanded, drilled, cut, renovated or removed. Dusting, vacuuming or sweeping such material can also disturb and make airborne these tiny asbestos particles. Age, heat, weather, and water can further weaken asbestos tiles to the point where toxic asbestos dust can become airborne as it crumbles, is pulverized or reduced to powder. Even minor repairs made without use of protective gear can lead to the release (and inhalation) of asbestos dust into the air. A lack of proper ventilation in enclosed work spaces often exacerbates the dangers of such labor.
Tile Setters Use a Variety of Asbestos Products
Tile setters use a variety of asbestos products, the most common of which include 9 by 9 inch floor tile (a thicker, older variety), twelve by twelve inch floor tile (more prevalent today), sheet linoleum, and cement, mastic, glue, grout or other adhesives used to mount tiling. In addition, decorative or soundproofing material sprayed on ceilings and walls might also contain asbestos. Furthermore, asbestos could be present in patching compounds or textured paint used on wall and ceiling joints. The following is a list of asbestos-containing products that tile setters may have come into contact with (where known, the years during which the product was manufactured is listed in parentheses):
Armstrong World Industries Vinyl Asbestos Tile, Armstrong Asphalt Tile (1931-1972), Armstrong Rubber Tile (1955-1956), Armstrong Excelon Tile - including Corkstyle Excelon, Designers Series Excelon, Spatter Excelon, Straight Grained Excelon, Woodtone Excelon Tile, Metallic Series, Styletone Edition, Imperial Excelon Tile, Centennial Excelon Tile, Travertex Excelon Tile, Driftstone, Embossed Parquet, Embossed Peblette, Travertine Embossed, Coastal Stone, Swirl Chip, Metric Chip, Polished Marble, Craftlon, Excelon Beveled Edging, and Excelon Feature Strips (1954-1980), Armstrong Solarion Vinyl Asbestos Tile (1978), Carey Asphalt Floor Tiles (1930-1975), Pabco Floron Floor Tile (1920-1960), Flintkote Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile, Flintkote Tiles (1940-1983), GAF Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tile (early 60's-late 70's), Johns Manville Corporation Floor Tile Products, and Kentile Vinyl Asbestos Tile.
Keene (Baldwin-Hill) Styltone (1957-1972), National Gypsum Company Asbestos Ceiling Panels (1963-1981), and USG Ceiling Tile (1967-1976).
Roofing and Siding
Carey (aka Philip Carey Manufacturing Company) Careystone Roofing and Siding, Celotex El Rey Asbestos Fibred Roof Coating, Celobric Insulating Brick Siding, Flintkote Rexalt Roof Coating, Flintkote Roofing Products (1940-1983), Flintkote Siding (1940-1983), Flintkote Asbestos Cement Siding & Roofing (1950-1974), Ruberoid Grain-Tex Asbestos Cement Siding (early 50's), Ruberoid American Thatch (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Asbestos Panelstone (early 50's-?), Ruberoid Dura-Color (late 50's), Ruberoid Aristo Insulating Siding (early 40's-late 50's), Johns Manville Corporation Roofing Products, Johns Manville Corporation Siding Products, National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestone (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Siding (mid 50's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Plasticrylic Panels (early 60's-early 80's), National Gypsum Gold Bond Asbestos Panels (mid 50's-early 80's), United States Gypsum Company Glatex Asbestos Cement Siding, USG Siding Shingles (Generic) (1937-1975), and USG Roofing (Generic) (1937-1975).
Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and Asbestosis are Common Diseases Contracted by Tile Setters
Exposure to asbestos can often result the contraction of both fatal diseases - such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis - and non-fatal diseases such as pleural thinking, pleural effusion and pleural plaques. Prolonged exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Frequently, a large amount of time (usually decades) can elapse from one's initial asbestos exposure to the point when symptoms of asbestos cancer appear - from ten years or so (typically for lung cancer) to over fifty years in some cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma. Family members of tile setters are not out of danger either, as harmful asbestos dust can be brought into the household via unwashed clothes, skin, shoes and/or hair. Many stay-at-home spouses have contracted these diseases through the laundering of asbestos-laden linens, for example. If you or a family member have been exposed to any of the above-listed products, it is imperative you become more familiar with the specific threats of the following diseases: