Asbestos exposure from sheet vinyl

Last Edited By Krjb Donovan
Last Updated: Mar 13, 2014 03:06 PM GMT


QUESTION: Hello. We removed 150 sq. ft. of sheet vinyl flooring by pulling up by hand. The vinyl layer separated from the paper backing layer which we left adhered to the floor and covered with new vinyl. We realized the asbestos risk after the fact, had old flooring tested, got result of 40% asbestos in the backing. So, my question is where do we go from here? Air testing? The project did not seem to produce visible dust and we did not sand, saw, scrape the adhered backing. However, I assume that the pulling And separating action on the paper layer must have resulted in some fiber release. We have damp wiped everything in the house we possibly could. The old vinyl is now double bagged in contractor trash bags. I assume we will need to hire an abatement contractor for disposal. Whatever guidance or next steps you could offer would be much appreciated to help us be sure our home is safe for my family after this misstep in remove our kitchen flooring.

ANSWER: Regarding disposal, it depends on where you live. In most parts of the US, residential dwelling of 4 units or less (i.e. single family, townhome) are not subject to the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulation. This means you can rip out as much asbestos from your home as you want and throw it in the trash. The law simply doesn't cover single family homes. Even if you were in a multi-family housing complex of greater than 4 units (condos/apartments) the law doesn't cover "small" amounts of asbestos, defined as less than 160 sq ft. So, even then, your 150 sq ft of material would not be subject to the regulation. The big caveat is if you live in a city or county which has stricter regulations than the federal regulations. You will need to check with a local professional to determine that. I know Illinois code, so if you live in IL, let me know. Otherwise, check with a local asbestos professional.

Regarding the potential exposure - certainly "some" amount of absestos fibers would have been released from pulling back the linoleum. It's impossible to say retrospectively with no sampling data just how bad or negligable the exposure was. However, generally speaking, this activity would not release as much asbestos dust as compared to something like stripping asbestos pipe insulation or scraping asbestos spray-on fireproofing. Based on my experience, floor tile / linoleum removal projects tend to have very low airborne asbestos fiber counts when the material is handled in a conservative manner - usually less than the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) - which is the level to which OSHA says a worker may be exposed to on a daily basis for a working lifetime without the expectation of adverse health affects. Now if you handled the material roughly, did any sanding, grinding, or abrading of the material, then this would not apply. But if you simply peeled back the linoleum layer and didn't do any scraping of the paper backing, then I wouldn't worry too much.

You have done the right thing in wet-wiping all horizontal surfaces. This is the preferred cleanup method following uncontained removal of asbestos materials. Wet-wiping and HEPA vacuuming are the best decontamination methods for whatever fibers did become airborne and then settle out onto horizontal surfaces. I would not advocate air testing, as it generally doesn't provide useful data in situation like this. Airborne fibers settle out in a matter of hours and won't be detectable in air samples at concentrations representative of the exposure during the removal process. You can do surface-dust vacuum samples (TEM Micro-vac) to assess asbestos in settled surface dust, but this is a very controversial apporach, and data interpretation can be tricky. Read some of my previous posts on this topic.

As for your next step, find out your local laws, and dispose of the bags through a contractor if required, or in the regular trash if there are no more stringent local state/county/city laws. It sounds like your wet wiping should have cleaned your home adequately. If you want peace of mind, you may consider hiring a professional consulting company to take some TEM microvac samples of settled surface dust to confirm an adequate cleaning job, but I would stay away from air sampling - I would bet a good amount of $ that any air sample would be just fine.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Jacob, thank you so much for your advice and guidance. I can't express enough gratitude for what you do here. Our flooring removal goof-up has come to a happy ending. Thank goodness we were not aggressive with the flooring material. I'd like to share some follow-up details.

We hired an asbestos testing firm for peace of mind. This firm only tests and consults. They don't perform remediation and won't recommend remediators (to avoid conflict of interest). They sent out technicians on the same day to perform TEM air and surface sampling.

I respect your advice on the air sampling, and clearly you were right. However, my intuition told me I was dealing with good people at the testing firm and I felt that I should accept their testing recommendations as-is for the sake of my working relationship with them.

They took air samples as follows: the two exit routes from the kitchen, the office (our most remote room from the kitchen), and the bedroom (adjacent to kitchen). They took surface samples from the kitchen, the office, and in the basement near the heat exchanger for our HVAC system.

All samples came back with no asbestos structures except for the air sample from the bedroom. They found 2 structures, and extrapolated this to 21.1 structures per sq mm (below the cleanup clearance standard of 70) or .009 per cc (below the OSHA standard of 0.1 for workers without respirators).

The bedroom has an area rug and a decorative blanket hanging on one wall, while the rest of the house is just hard floors and walls. The consultant felt this was a reasonable explanation for the isolated reading in the bedroom.

We were advised to discard our vacuum because it would be impossible to decontaminate it. We were also advised to perform another round of damp wiping in a few days just for good measure.

They characterized the results as something you might find in just about any house, even one where there hadn't been bad removal of asbestos material. They also mentioned that professional cleaning is not advised because it might actually increase our levels due to residual contamination on the equipment they'd bring in. Last, they said that the asbestos levels during the floor removal were likely very low given the very low test results from the house.

All expenses combined (including tossing our vacuum) this little lesson cost us close to $1,000. It was well worth it for the peace of mind, the fact that we won't ever get ourselves into this kind of trouble again, and also that this information might be of use to someone in a similar predicament.

Thanks Jacob.



Glad to hear you got the issue satisfactorily resolved. For peace of mind, bringing in an environmental consultant was a good move. I too work for a national environmental consulting company. I concur that the protocol used is appropriate (TEM air and Microvac). The TEM air wans't a "bad" idea, I was just stating that based on my experience with these types of projects, I would have been really surprised if it had found anything significant. 2 asbestos structures detected (21 S/mm on the filter) is nothing unusual. They are correct - you may find that in a house that had no asbestos disturbance at all. Anything below 70 S/cc meets clearance criteria, so you are good to go. No structures detected on the surface samples means you did a good wet-wipe cleaning job. Good call on ditching the vacuum if you used it to clean up any of the dust.

Sounds like you got some good advice from your consultant and all the test results were favorable. And consider $1,000 a bargain for all that service and testing! That's a highly competitive consultant rate for such a project including 4 TEM and 3 TEM surface samples.


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