Years Produced: Early 1900s – 1980s
Construction workers use floor backing, also referred to as felt, for buildings and houses. Floor backing, is a type of insulation and floor cushioning material.
Products manufactured prior to the late 1900s often contained asbestos fibers, as the material resists the effects of humidity, wind and water as well as the effects of extreme heat and cold and abrasive or caustic substances. Manufacturers sold felt-base flooring for a lower price than popular linoleum floor in 1910. Following World War II, workers returning from service occupied the construction industry, building cheaper homes with new flooring materials. These low cost housing projects used asbestos as reinforcing agents.
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By 1980, flooring felt accounted for 45 percent of the asbestos annually used for paper products, replacing previous felt products such as organic felt and jute. Companies added latex or plastisol binding and vinyl sheeting to asbestos to make flooring felt under sheets with patterns like terrazzo.
Companies that manufacture asbestos floor backing include Armstrong World Industries, Inc., Nicolet, Inc., Koppers Co., American Biltrite, Inc.; Amtico Flooring Division, Johns-Manville, Brown Company, Tarkett, Inc., Congoleum Industries, Celotex Corporation, Raymark Industries, Inc., United States Gypsum Company and Georgia-Pacific Corporation.
Floor backing, which prevents moisture absorption, may be applied to homes, commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and stores in the following materials:
Intact floor backing may not release asbestos fibers as long as the tile is whole and undamaged, but worn or broken tiles may emit asbestos fibers into the air. Floor backing that has become friable, or able to crumble with the use of hand pressure, endangers health. As long as felt is not disturbed underneath the vinyl tile sheets, the asbestos remains encapsulated, preventing exposure to friable material.
Actions such as cutting, sanding, breaking, sawing and scraping floor backing can disturb asbestos that would normally remain sealed beneath the floor. The backing contains 80 to 100 percent chrysotile asbestos. Removing floor tiles or renovating or demolishing homes may also allow asbestos fibers to become airborne.
Construction workers, floor installers and homeowners involved in remodeling and flooring projects have filed lawsuits against manufactures of asbestos products after being diagnosed with illnesses like mesothelioma and lung cancer, sending some companies into bankruptcy.
James Butler owned a flooring business and used American Biltrite's asbestos containing flooring materials. Butler developed mesothelioma and passed away before his case went to trial. His widow, Kathleen Rafter, took his case to court where the case was dismissed. However, after Rafter filed an appeal, presenting one of Butler's former employees who witnessed the use of American Biltrite asbestos products, the case was remanded for trial. The results remain unpublished.
Robert Ehret used asbestos flooring felt, putting in floor tiles and sheets for two decades. Ehret worked as a floor covering contractor, cutting the flooring felt material, which released fibers that eventually caused him to develop mesothelioma. Mesothelioma took Erhet's life before he could go to court, but his wife received an award of $3,322,551 in part from Congoleum, maker of these flooring products.
Protection agencies restrict manufacturers from selling mainstream asbestos construction items. In 1989 and 1993 the Environmental Protection agency specified that the ban restrict six products made with asbestos, including flooring felt.
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