Floor Backing

Floor Backing

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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At A Glance

  • Places Used: Building and housing construction
  • Toxicity: High
  • Asbestos Use Banned: Yes
  • Friable: Yes

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:

  • Tiles
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Linoleum
  • Sheet flooring
  • Asphalt floor tiles
  • Floor adhesives


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.


Popular asbestos backing products include:

  • Hydrocord flooring felt
  • Asbestos flooring felt 2897, 2898
  • Standard neoprene flooring felt
  • Koppers No. 15 felt
  • Carey asbestos felt
  • Pyrotex felt

Banning Asbestos

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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Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. Prior to joining The Mesothelioma Center as a Content Writer in 2016, Matt spent three years as an Online Producer for the Orlando Sentinel.

  1. Crosby, James H. What Every Lawyer Needs To Know And Have To Work in Asbestos Litigation. (2009 May 11). Retrieved from http://www.crosbylegal.com/
  2. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Asbestos Floor Tule and Mastic Removal. (2011 July). Retrieved from http://www.cfm.va.gov/TIL/spec/02821319.doc
  3. Asbestos Compliance Assistance Group. Asbestos Bans. (n.d.) .Retrieved from http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/ap/asbestos/asbestosbans.pdf
  4. Department of Justice and Attorney-General. Asbestos Flooring. (2001 December). Retrieved from http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/workplace/resources/pdfs/asbestos_factsheet4.pdf
  5. California Court of Appeal. (1999 August 4). Ehret versus Congoleum. Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1223992.html
  6. Cogley, D. & Krusell, N. (1982 February). Asbestos Substitute Performance Analysis. Bedford: GCA Corporation. Retrieved from http://nepis.epa.gov/
  7. Washington Court of Appeals. (2008 June 9). Kathleen Rafter versus American Biltrite. Retrieved from http://www.braytonlaw.com/content/images/060908_rafter_v_ambilt.pdf

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