Written By: Michelle Whitmer, Last modified: April 29, 2021
Quick Facts
  • Years Produced:
    Early 1900s – 1990s
  • Places Used:
    Roofs and floors in homes, businesses and public buildings; paper mills
  • Toxicity:
    High
  • Asbestos Use Banned:
    Partial: Asbestos flooring felt is banned
  • Friable:
    Yes

Asbestos Felt and Paper Used in Building Materials

Felt is a type of fabric made by compressing textile fibers and heating or moistening them so they mat together. Felt was commonly made of animal hair or synthetic fibers. However, because of the naturally soft, fibrous consistency of asbestos, the fireproof mineral was also made into felt for construction and manufacturing purposes until its toxicity was revealed to the public.

Asbestos Adhesive Floors
Asbestos felt was used along with adhesives in the floors of older homes.

Asbestos felt was used as an underlayment for floors and roofs. Paper mills also used sheets of it on which to dry hot paper pulp. The asbestos content of these products was historically 85%, with almost all manufacturers using the common chrysotile form, also known as “white asbestos.” Because asbestos felt is friable, which means it easily releases toxic dust particles into the air when worked with or disturbed, it poses a major exposure risk.

Asbestos flooring felt is one of the few asbestos products completely banned in the U.S., and regulations now require other products to contain less than 1% asbestos. However, old asbestos felt remains in the floors and roofs of millions of American buildings constructed between 1900 and the 1990s. Roofers, flooring installers, demolition workers and paper mill workers have faced the greatest risk of exposure to this product.

Diseases Related to Asbestos Felt

Exposure to asbestos-contaminated felt may cause the following diseases:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural plaques
  • Diffuse pleural thickening
  • Pleuritis
  • Pleural effusion

In 2007, an asbestos exposure study published in Annals of Work Exposures and Health simulated work performed by roofers using asbestos-containing roofing materials, including felt. Chrysotile asbestos fibers were detected in 28 of 84 air samples taken during the study.

Thankfully, the exposure level detected in the study suggested it is unlikely that current roofers are exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos over an eight-hour work shift. Unfortunately, former roofers have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos and have developed related diseases as a result.

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Occupations at Risk

  • Roofers
  • Flooring installers
  • Construction workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Paper mill workers

Roofers, flooring installers and paper mill workers inhaled asbestos fibers while applying or removing asbestos felt. Even when the product was new and in good condition it could easily release asbestos fibers during handling because of the way it was made. It is important to hire a licensed asbestos abatement professional if you believe asbestos felt is in your home or workplace.

In decades past, asbestos felt products contributed substantially to the occupational exposure that now results in asbestos-related deaths among retired blue-collar workers each year. If you were exposed in the past, watch for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal swelling and fatigue. Workers diagnosed with related diseases should see a specialist to ensure they receive the best treatment possible.

What Was Asbestos Felt Used for in Construction?

The primary applications for asbestos felt included:

  • Roofing: Construction workers used asbestos roofing felt as an underlayment for shingles, and it was also sometimes the main material used in built-up roofs. Asbestos tar paper, also known as asbestos felt underlayment, was used as an underlayment for roofs.
  • Flooring: Asbestos felt was often laid under linoleum, vinyl and asphalt floor tiles for padding and insulation.
  • Paper Manufacturing: Asbestos paper mills used sheets of asbestos felt as a drying surface for paper pulp.

Companies Connected to Asbestos Felt and Paper

Companies that manufactured asbestos felt include:

Manufacturer Brand
Armstrong World Industries Hydrocord Flooring Felt
Koppers Company Fashionflor Cushioned Vinyl
Johns Manville Blue Chip Roofing Felt
Celotex Corporation Carey Fiberock Felt
Raymark Industries Raybestos Pyrotex Felt
Quigley Company Fiberock Felt
Reynolds Metals AAA Roofing Felt
National Gypsum FlexFelt

Other companies that manufactured asbestos felt products include:

Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos Felt and Paper

Since the 1970s, thousands of construction workers and homeowners have filed lawsuits against manufactures of asbestos products, including asbestos felt manufacturers, after being diagnosed with illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. This sent many companies into bankruptcy.

  • In September 2020, widower William Robaey was awarded more than $10 million in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Felt Products Manufacturing after his wife died of mesothelioma because of secondary exposure. Robaey used asbestos-containing products made by Felt Products Manufacturing in his home garage and his wife was exposed while helping him work and while cleaning the garage and his work clothes.
  • In the 1990s, flooring contractor Robert Ehret developed mesothelioma after installing asbestos flooring felt with floor tiles and sheets for two decades. He filed a personal injury lawsuit against several manufacturers, including Congoleum, which manufactured asbestos-containing flooring products from the 1950s to the 1980s. Mesothelioma took Erhet’s life before he could go to court, but his wife received an award of more than $3 million.

Another major manufacturer of asbestos flooring products, Armstrong World Industries, was driven to bankruptcy in 2000 by the volume of lawsuits filed against it. As part of its reorganization, it established the Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Trust in 2006 to provide compensation to present and future claimants. According to the trust’s 2014 annual report, it paid almost $100 million in claims that year, and its total value was about $1.8 billion.

In addition to lawsuits and trust fund claims, other forms of compensation include VA claims, Social Security Disability and grants for treatment or travel. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can offer the best guidance on the types of compensation for which you may qualify.

Abatement and History of Asbestos Felt

Asbestos felt is friable, making it a particularly hazardous product no matter the percentage of asbestos content. Most asbestos felt in homes and businesses today is encapsulated under floor tiles and roof shingles. The safest thing to do in many cases is to leave it that way so asbestos fibers remain trapped.

Asbestos backing on peeled back linoleum
Asbestos was used in the backing of numerous sheet flooring products.

If roofing or flooring installed before 1980 must be repaired or replaced, a sample of the underlayment should be tested for asbestos before the work gets underway. Consult a trained asbestos abatement professional before doing any work that may disturb an asbestos felt product.

In the early 1900s, a new construction method called built-up roofing became popular. During this process, several layers of fabric covered with tar or asphalt were laid down on top of one another. Asbestos felt became the primary material used in many flat-topped buildings.

Materials used in flooring installation also incorporated asbestos felt. Linoleum, asphalt and vinyl floor tiles all offered cheap and durable flooring solutions, and asbestos felt products were available as backing materials for all of them.

The rise of the office worker brought with it the advent of the modern paper industry, which found yet another application for asbestos felt. After trees are processed into wood pulp, the pulp must be dried before being made into paper. Laying the pulp out on sheets of asbestos felt allowed it to be dried at a high temperature, increasing the speed of production.

By the 1980s, however, corporations could no longer cover up the link between asbestos exposure and fatal diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. As with most asbestos products, the use of asbestos felt has largely been phased out in the United States, though it remains a threat to workers and homeowners renovating old floors and roofs.


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