Asbestos in Vinyl Products and Flooring
During the last century, vinyl manufacturers often mixed asbestos into their products for greater strength and insulating properties. Construction companies also favored asbestos-containing materials of all kinds as an essential component of fire-resistant buildings. Because both vinyl and asbestos were inexpensive and easy to work with, asbestos vinyl products were widely used.
Vinyl is a plastic resin manufactured from ethylene and chlorine. The substance is sturdy yet flexible, easy to wash and inexpensive to install and replace. In addition, vinyl products can be manufactured with almost any color and texture, allowing them to provide the appearance of wood, stone and other traditional building materials at a fraction of the cost.
American manufacturers don’t use asbestos in vinyl products today, but other countries continue to use asbestos in vinyl products and there’s no regulation on importing them into the U.S.
Types of Vinyl Products Containing Asbestos
Types of vinyl products containing asbestos include: Vinyl wallpaper, vinyl floor tiles, vinyl sheet flooring and linoleum flooring. Well-known manufacturers such as Sears-Roebuck and Goodyear are among the companies that manufactured these products.
Common vinyl products that contained asbestos include:
Vinyl has been used in wallpaper for more than a century, and today most wall coverings are either vinyl-coated paper or solid vinyl with a cloth backing. Wallpaper was one of the earliest vinyl products to include asbestos.
Vinyl Floor Tiles
Vinyl floor tiles are resilient and inexpensive, making them a logical choice for floors that must withstand constant wear and tear in businesses, schools and hospitals. Mixing asbestos into vinyl floor tiles made them more insulated and resistant to fire and damage. The adhesive used to apply these tiles also contained asbestos.
Vinyl Sheet Flooring
Like floor tiles, vinyl sheet flooring is a long-lasting and economical material, and it also offers more aesthetic options to suit a homeowner’s taste. Unfortunately, vinyl sheet flooring manufactured with an asbestos backing poses a serious exposure risk when it is disturbed. Asbestos vinyl sheet flooring was often designed to resemble carpeting, wood or stone and was less expensive than these other types of flooring.
Asbestos was also used in linoleum flooring, which is similar in appearance and application to vinyl flooring. Vinyl is synthetic, while linoleum is considered natural because it is made from materials such as linseed oil, pine resin, cork, wood or mineral fillers. Linoleum is technically not a vinyl product, but homeowners may mistake it for vinyl flooring.
The following brands of vinyl flooring contained asbestos:
Fashionflor Cushioned Vinyl
Gold Seal Vinyl Inlaids
Gold Seal Vinyl Nairon Standard
|Armstrong World Industries||Excelon Vinyl Asbestos Tiles
Solarian Vinyl Asbestos Tiles
|Kentile Floors||KenFlex Vinyl Floor Tiles|
|Montgomery Ward||Style House Vinyl Asbestos Flooring|
|Sears-Roebuck||Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles|
|EverWear||Vinyl Asbestos Floor Tiles|
Companies Associated with Asbestos Vinyl Products
Companies that manufactured asbestos vinyl products include:
- American Biltrite
- Amtico Floors
- Armstrong World Industries
- Congoleum Corporation
- GAF Corporation
- Kentile Floors
- Montgomery Ward
Asbestos Vinyl Products and Asbestos-Related Diseases
Asbestos in vinyl products becomes dangerous when microscopic fibers of the mineral are released and become airborne. If the material is in good condition it normally does not pose a threat because the asbestos is enclosed in vinyl, preventing the fibers from escaping. Tile and wallpaper products in good condition are considered nonfriable, which means the products are not easily broken by slight pressure.
However, cutting, sanding or disturbing vinyl tiles or wallpaper makes them friable and releases asbestos. If inhaled or swallowed on a regular basis over a long period of time, asbestos fibers can cause several serious illnesses.
Exposure to asbestos in vinyl products may cause the following diseases:
Asbestos vinyl sheet flooring poses a significantly greater asbestos exposure risk than floor tiles or wallpaper. Vinyl sheet flooring comes in large pieces and is usually cut to the size of the room and laid down in one piece. Manufacturers often made this type of flooring with a friable asbestos backing, which means mineral fibers are easily released into the air if the sheet flooring is disturbed or damaged.
If you believe you were exposed to asbestos through vinyl products, you should see a pulmonologist to request a chest X-ray and inform the doctor of your exposure history. X-rays help to screen for asbestos-related diseases, which respond better to treatment when diagnosed early. If you are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease it is vital to seek the care of a specialist.
Individuals at risk from exposure from vinyl products include:
- Vinyl factory workers
- Floor installers
- Do-it-yourself renovators
- Construction workers
- Maintenance workers
- Demolition crews
Flooring installers and factory workers have the greatest risk of exposure.
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos Vinyl Products
Manufacturers have paid out millions of dollars to compensate the victims of their products. Consumers of these products and the workers who installed and repaired them have filed personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits against these manufacturers.
Asbestos vinyl product manufacturers were aware of the dangers associated with asbestos and chose to use it anyway. That’s why U.S. courts have held them liable for the diseases their products cause.
- A New York judge denied Goodyear’s request to be dismissed from a 2019 lawsuit by a former carpenter and flooring installer who claimed he developed mesothelioma from working with Goodyear’s asbestos vinyl tile. The judge said there was sufficient evidence to bring the claim before a jury. A trial date has not been published.
- In 2010, as part of Congoleum’s reorganization plan under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, the corporation created the Congoleum Plan Trust. According to an annual report, it paid 943 personal injury claimants a total of more than $11 million in 2016, and the trust fund was worth more than $206 million overall.
- In the 1990s, a flooring contractor named Robert Ehret was diagnosed with mesothelioma and sued Congoleum Corporation along with several other flooring companies. Ehret had developed the cancer after being exposed to asbestos in the companies’ vinyl flooring products for more than 20 years. He died of the disease before his trial, but the jury awarded $3.3 million for pain, suffering, loss of consortium and lost earnings to his wife and three children.
In addition to lawsuits, you may qualify to file asbestos trust fund claims. Many asbestos manufacturers have gone bankrupt because of asbestos litigation. As part of their bankruptcy reorganization plans, they were required to establish trust funds to compensate future victims.
You may also qualify for other forms of compensation, including VA claims, Social Security Disability and treatment or travel grants. A qualified mesothelioma lawyer has the expertise to advise what forms of compensation your case may qualify for.
How to Handle and Dispose of Vinyl Products Containing Asbestos
Vinyl flooring and wallpaper that contain asbestos cannot be recognized on sight. It is always safer to assume vinyl materials manufactured before 1980 contain asbestos.
Only a licensed abatement professional should remove asbestos vinyl sheet flooring because this product becomes friable upon removal at any age. A licensed professional should also handle abating asbestos vinyl wallpaper and floor tiles because these products become friable with age and demolition.
Today, the use of asbestos in new vinyl materials has been largely phased out in the United States, but many homes, businesses and public buildings constructed before 1980 still contain old asbestos vinyl flooring and wallpaper. It is also worth noting that the use of asbestos in vinyl floor tiles and wallpaper still has not been banned by the United States government.
The long latency period of asbestos-related diseases meant the true cost of these products would not make itself known until the 1980s and 1990s. Cancer and lung diseases hit hardest among the factory workers who manufactured asbestos vinyl products and the tradesmen who installed them.
Asbestos has been used in vinyl wallpaper since the 1920s, and vinyl floor tiles and sheet flooring rose to prominence in the 1950s. The wondrous new “no-wax” flooring sold by companies such as Congoleum and Armstrong put a glossy sheen on post-war American prosperity. Stain-proof, fireproof, stylish and affordable, vinyl products fortified by asbestos promised to help Americans leave the messiness and peril of the World War II years behind them.