What is the best way to seal/encapsulate vinyl asbestos tile?
Originally published May 20, 2013 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council
Q: What is the best way to seal/encapsulate vinyl asbestos tile?
We just bought a home built in 1940, and the basement has wall-to-wall
vinyl tiles that we have been told by our inspector "definitely
contain asbestos." Most of the tiles are in perfectly fine condition.
There are a few that have some big chips in them (but don't seem to be
cracking or falling apart). There are also a few tiles that seem to
have some small "bubbles" on the surface (but are not cracked open).
I'd prefer to encapsulate them and then put a new floating vinyl floor
over them. However, I have seen many different theories for what to
use to encapsulate the VATs. Any advice on what to use to cover the
floor before laying new floor on top would be helpful.
—asked by Andrew Nacht, Union, NJ
A: This is a good question but a tough one to answer. In fact, the government prefers that you not deal with this issue at all, but rather hire a professional who is trained in asbestos abatement.
Check out the EPA website on Asbestos: Protect Your Family. It contains valuable information, but ultimately defaults to professional handling.
I called one of our suppliers, AFM Safecoat, and asked if any of their sealers would encapsulate asbestos. The answer came back, no. While they do make good sealers that encapsulate off-gassing of toxic chemicals, asbestos presents a different problem. The problem is not chemical off-gassing but rather fine dust particles created when the asbestos is agitated or disturbed such as by sanding, drilling or removal. Just walking over the top doesn’t produce that effect.
As a result, encapsulation with a sealer probably won’t provide much help. An encapsulate needs to have strong enough side to side adhesion that even if a portion of the underneath tile loosens or chips or fails, it will not bring the top coating with it. These types of coatings tend to be considerably more viscous and expensive than typical polyurethanes, for example.
There seem to be very few companies selling asbestos sealers on the internet. There is probably a good reason for that; namely they are concerned for how the product might be used, and there are potential liability issues. The few that I’ve seen are either industrial-grade products that all require professional application or products offered by overseas companies where your legal rights may be limited.
What most people tend to do with asbestos tile is cover it and forget it--partly because professional abatement is so expensive and partly because the risks with tiles in good condition are low. If asbestos tiles are covered with carpeting or a floating floor made of wood, bamboo, cork, linoleum or vinyl along with the appropriate vapor barrier, the potential for creating friable asbestos and resultant health effects is very low.
As always, it’s best to consult with local authorities and professional that specialize in this field.