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Vinyl Floors

Asbestos in Vinyl Floors and Other Building Materials

Vinyl has been a popular flooring material for well over 80 years. Although considered a "modern" material, its origins go back to 1835, when a French chemist accidentally discovered the polymer. It was several more decades before the material would have commercial use, however; early vinyl was brittle and of little practical use. It was Waldo Semon, an American inventor and chemist working for the B.F. Goodrich Corporation who first came up with the idea of adding various substances to vinyl in the late 1920s, producing a pliable, yet durable material that was suitable for flooring among other purposes.

Asbestos was commonly added to almost every type of construction material, including vinyl prior to the 1980s. It was a cheap way to provide fire resistance and durability, both important qualities in building and home flooring. The most common variety of asbestos was chrysotile, which accounted for approximately 97% of all commercial asbestos production. This type is still mined in Thetford, Quebec as well as China and Russia, and asbestos continues to be exported throughout the world – primarily to developing countries.

Asbestos vinyl flooring is no longer produced in the U.S., though some Chinese imports may find their way on to store shelves, since current trade regulations for imports are extremely lax. Beyond this, such asbestos-containing vinyl flooring materials is likely to be found in any older home or building constructed prior to 1980 that has not undergone renovation or remodeling. Inspections should be carried out (and is required in many states) before any extensive renovation, demolition or salvage work is done on older buildings. Furthermore, many states have strict regulations governing the disposal of asbestos waste such as vinyl flooring.

Vinyl Floors Products Containing Asbestos

The following partial list of vinyl floors products were known to contain asbestos:

Product Name Start Year End Year
GAF Bright Future Luxor Vinyl Floors
GAF Luran Airtred Vinyl Floors
GAF Sheet Vinyl A-1 Vinyl Floors

Hazards Associated with Vinyl Floor Products

New vinyl flooring, even vinyl flooring made with asbestos, posed a relatively low risk to the installers or to people living and working in the spaces where this flooring material was installed. This is because the asbestos material was tightly bound in the flooring and could not escape into the air; asbestos must be inhaled or ingested in order to pose a significant health risk. Workers in vinyl floor manufacturing facilities, like Congoleum, were at risk for asbestos exposure in their jobs because asbestos was a raw material used in the process.

For consumers, the asbestos danger from vinyl flooring comes when the material begins to wear or erode. With time and wear, asbestos-containing materials become friable, meaning that the asbestos can become brittle and release fibers into the air. Demolition and renovation workers dealing with older vinyl flooring materials are also at risk of asbestos inhalation.

Sources

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

N/A. "Waldo Semon - He Helped Save the World." Columns: The University of Washington Alumni Magazine (September 1999).

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