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posted: 10/13/2012 5:00 AM

Test on floor tile can determine presence of asbestos

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Q. Our home has old linoleum in the kitchen and hall that I would like to remove and replace, or, if the floor is decent, refinish the wood. What are the dangers of asbestos? We've lived here more than 33 years, so who knows how old the floor is.

A. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and should be handled by trained professionals. There are many items in older homes that contain asbestos, but linoleum generally does not fall into that category.

However, 8-inch floor tiles commonly used in older kitchens and bathrooms most likely contain asbestos and the glue that was used for both the floor tiles and linoleum may contain asbestos fibers.

Asbestos was, and still is, a useful fireproof product and the fibers of asbestos were incorporated into numerous products to add tensile strength and fire resistance. A list of many of these products can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency website,

If the asbestos-containing material is in a good condition, there is no need to remove or disturb it. Asbestos becomes a health issue only when the fibers are disturbed and become airborne.

I understand the desire to restore the floors to their original finish, but the costs may be more than one wants to bear. You need to take a sample of the glue under the linoleum to a certified laboratory. Contact a local lab to get information on how big a sample it needs and any procedures it suggests for taking the sample.

Over the years, I have been instructed to wet the areas for sampling so that the fibers are contained. In a corner of the room or in a closet, dampen the area where you want to take a sample.

Pull back the linoleum, dampen the exposed glue and, using a stiff knife blade or flat chisel, carefully scrape a small sample of the glue and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Deliver the sample to the lab, where you will have to complete a "chain of custody" form.

If the test is negative, you can remove the linoleum and the glue with a hand scraper. If the sample is positive, consider encapsulating the linoleum with a new wood floor or one of the newer laminate floor coverings.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at

Scripps Howard News Service

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