Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Tile Workers

Asbestos exposure was possible for tile workers due to the use of asbestos in floor or ceiling tiles. These tile workers, also called tile setters, would cut and place floor or ceiling tiles in construction jobs for homes, office buildings, hospitals, schools and more. People who worked in manufacturing plants to create floor and ceiling tiles could also be exposed to asbestos.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure in Tile Workers

  • Asbestos exposure was common for both floor tile workers and ceiling tile workers. Tile setters and other tile workers could be exposed from installing, repairing, or removing tiles in a home, office, school, hospital or other building.
  • Vinyl floor tiles were manufactured with asbestos while other floor tiles had asbestos as a backing or adhesive.
  • Asbestos in tiles is dangerous when the tiles are disturbed. This can be from drilling, sawing, buffing or waxing, or from water or heat damage. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, can also impact tiles and disturb asbestos.
  • Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, asbestosis (a deadly lung scarring disease), and a rare cancer called mesothelioma.

What is the Job Description for Tile Workers?

Tile workers, also called tile setters or tile installers, sand, drill, cut, scrape, remove, and place tiles for floors or ceilings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an estimated 115,000 floor tile jobs as of 2011.

The presence of asbestos in floor and ceiling tiles means tile setters and other tile workers were at risk of occupational asbestos exposure.

How Was Asbestos Part of the Tile Industry?

Asbestos was part of the tile industry as a heat-resistant and durable addition to floor and ceiling tiles. Asbestos could be part of the manufacturing process in creating tiles or an adhesive underneath floor tiles to provide additional durability.

Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was a popular part of construction projects due to its durable and fire-resistant properties. Many homes, offices, schools and other buildings during the 20th century were built with this mineral.

Increased awareness of the dangers of asbestos led manufacturers to phase out use of the substance. The Environmental Protection Agency then banned ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos – the most common type of asbestos – in March 2024, further distancing U.S. industries from the mineral. However, any buildings constructed prior to the 1980s were likely to be built with asbestos in tiles.

Some of the asbestos-containing materials for tiles were:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Floor tiles
  • Sheet linoleum
  • Mastic
  • Glue
  • Grout and caulk
  • Patching compounds
  • Soundproofing materials
  • Decorative materials
  • Textured paint
  • Backing
  • Adhesives (to hold tiles in place)

Notable manufacturers of floor and ceiling tiles that also incorporated  asbestos in the products were:

  • Johns Manville
  • Conwed
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum
  • Amtico
  • GAF Corp.
  • Flintkote
  • Kentile
  • Mannington Mills
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglas

Asbestos in Flooring

Asbestos is durable and can resist heat, including fire damage. These qualities made asbestos a popular addition to many building construction elements, including flooring. Asbestos was used in high concentrations to manufacture floor tiles from the early 20th century to the early 1980s. According to the website RPF Environmental, these floor tiles were used in kitchens, hallways, entryways and bathrooms in homes built prior to the 1980s.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Flooring materials installed prior to 1980 should be presumed to contain asbestos and should be treated as such” unless testing has proven otherwise.

Asbestos-containing materials in flooring include:

  • Floor tiles
  • Backing
  • Adhesives or glues (to hold tiles in place)
  • Cover bases
  • Mastics

Asbestos flooring was mostly in the form of vinyl floor tiles. The toxic substance was mixed into vinyl floor tiles for improved insulation, durability and fire resistance. Asbestos vinyl floor tiles came in various sizes, including:

  • 9 by 9 inches
  • 12 by 12 inches
  • 18 by 18 inches

Other types of flooring that contained asbestos were linoleum and vinyl sheet flooring. Asbestos usually wasn’t part of the tile sheet but was added to the backing for improved durability.

Asbestos vinyl floor tiles could be any color. Linoleum, which appears similar to vinyl flooring, often had asbestos added to the black tar or asphalt felt paper backing or adhesive material. If your floor tiles are coming apart and there’s a thick, black adhesive beneath them, that’s a sign of asbestos backing.

According to the asbestos testing and screening website Asbestos123, the following are a few of the manufacturers of asbestos floor tiles:

  • American Biltrite
  • Amtico Floors
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • Everwear Inc.
  • GAF Corporation
  • Johns-Manville
  • Kentile Floors
  • Montgomery Ward
  • Sears-Roebuck

Asbestos in Ceiling Tiles

Asbestos was used in ceiling tiles and the backing for them. It was also a common ingredient in adhesives used to hold tiles in place. The mineral’s durability made it an appealing addition to ceiling tile manufacturing and other ceiling tile materials.

The website Inspectapedia identifies amosite asbestos, chrysotile asbestos and crocidolite asbestos as the types most often used in ceiling tiles. The website also notes the following ceiling tile manufacturers once used asbestos in their products:

  • Boise Cascade
  • Conwed
  • Flintkote
  • Johns Manville
  • U.S. Gypsum Ceiling Tiles

According to the website Kanopi, asbestos in ceiling tiles were used mostly in drop ceilings in kitchens and basements to cover ductwork. The website also states that asbestos ceiling tiles often look as follows:

  • Powdery appearance
  • Small, pinhole markings
  • Square or rectangular shape

Asbestos in ceiling tiles was commonplace during the middle of the 20th century and until the 1980s. It was largely phased out of practice at the end of the 20th century due to asbestos’ health hazards coming to light.

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How Were Tile Setters and Other Tile Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

Tile workers, such as tile setters, cut floor tiles using wet saws, tile scribes or handheld tile cutters. Tile workers then would use trowels to spread mortar or sticky paste, called mastic, as a glue-type substance to hold the tiles in place. After spreading this mastic, the tile workers would place the tiles.

Some of the tiles themselves, such as vinyl floor tiles, were made with asbestos. Otherwise, tile workers were exposed from asbestos in the mastic, glue or adhesives added beneath the tiles. They could be exposed from installing the tiles or from repairing or removing old tiles in floors and ceilings.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers who waxed or buffed floor tiles with asbestos were also at risk of exposure. The equipment used for this floor maintenance had abrasive pads, which run at high speeds. The use of this equipment can disturb asbestos in the tiles and release fibers into the air.

Can Asbestos Tiles Be Dangerous After They Are Installed?

Asbestos is only dangerous when it’s disturbed, which can release sharp fibers into the air. These fibers splinter from the main source of asbestos and can be inhaled or swallowed by tile workers or occupants of a building.

Asbestos tiles are not dangerous if the asbestos is not disturbed and remains intact. However, it can be disturbed quite easily. Floor and ceiling tiles can also deteriorate over time, which can release fibers. Heat, water and aging can cause tiles to be friable, which means it can crumble with hand pressure. Friable tiles can release asbestos into the air.

Here are some of the ways asbestos in tiles can be disturbed:

  • Drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing or striking the floor tiles
  • Water damage to the tiles
  • Natural disasters such as tornadoes or hurricanes
  • Continuous vibration of the tiles from working nearby
  • Any work to repair or remove old or deteriorating floor tiles

Health Risks for Tile Workers Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos is a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. When sharp fibers are inhaled or swallowed, they can travel through the body to essential organs, such as the lungs. The sharp ends of these fibers can puncture tissue in the lungs – or cell linings near the lungs or abdominal cavity – and cause the cells to mutate and begin multiplying rapidly.

Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and a deadly lung scarring disease called asbestosis. Asbestos exposure is also the only known cause of the rare cancer called mesothelioma. This cancer forms in the thin tissue linings of the lungs, abdominal cavity or heart.

Legal Options for Tile Workers With an Asbestos Disease

Tile workers – no matter if it’s ceiling or floor – can be exposed to asbestos if they worked prior to the 1980s or did renovation work on older buildings. Even now, tile workers can be exposed to “legacy asbestos” that exists in old homes, offices, schools, hospitals and more.

The manufacturers of asbestos in tiles or asbestos in tile materials – such as backing, adhesives or glue – are responsible for the asbestos diseases that tile workers develop. These companies often knew of the health risks associated with using asbestos but prioritized their profit margins over the safety of blue collar American workers.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and was or is a tile worker, there are legal options available to you. Asbestos exposure is the only proven cause of mesothelioma, and the victims of this rare cancer can file lawsuits or make asbestos trust fund claims against the responsible manufacturing companies.

Mesothelioma Guide has knowledgeable patient advocates who can help connect you with an expert mesothelioma lawyer for your case. Contact our lead patient advocate, Karen Ritter, RN, to quickly get advice on looking for a lawyer, learning about your asbestos exposure or finding mesothelioma treatment options. Email her at karen@mesotheliomaguide.com.

Frequently Asked Questions About Asbestos Exposure for Tile Workers

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What Are Some of the Tile Materials That May Have Asbestos?

Aside from the tiles themselves – which were often manufactured with asbestos – the other tile materials that once contained asbestos include: backing, adhesives, glue, mastic, patching compounds, sheet linoleum and grout.

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How Can Asbestos in Tiles Be Disturbed?

Asbestos that’s friable is most likely to be dangerous and lead to occupational asbestos exposure for tile workers. Friable asbestos was used in both ceiling tile materials and floor tile materials. When the asbestos is not disturbed and is intact, it’s not dangerous for workers. However, friable asbestos is fickle and can easily splinter from sawing, grinding, drilling, buffing, cutting, or striking the tiles. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods can also damage tiles and disturb asbestos.

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What Dangers Does Asbestos Exposure Present for Tile Workers?

Asbestos exposure can lead to many health concerns for tile workers. The diseases caused by asbestos exposure include mesothelioma, lung cancer, and a lung scarring disease called asbestosis. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused solely by asbestos exposure, and tile workers with this disease can file lawsuits against the manufacturers that are responsible for their exposure.

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How Can I Tell if My Home’s Floor Tiles Have Asbestos?

If your home was built prior to the 1980s and has not undergone a significant renovation – particularly of the flooring – then the tiles likely have asbestos. Vinyl floor tiles can be manufactured with asbestos while other types of floor tiles have asbestos as a backing. The safest way to learn if your home’s floor tiles have asbestos is by hiring a professional to inspect and test for asbestos.

Sources & Author

  1. Flooring Installers and Tile and Stone Setters. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/tile-and-marble-setters.htm. Accessed: 08/06/2023.
  2. How to Identify Asbestos Floor Tiles: What Does Asbestos in Flooring Look Like? RPF Environmental. Retrieved from: https://www.airpf.com/asbestos-floor-tiles-what-asbestos-in-flooring-looks-like/. Accessed: 08/06/2023.
  3. How to Recognize Asbestos Floor Tiles. Asbestos123. Retrieved from: https://www.asbestos123.com/news/how-to-recognize-asbestos-floor-tiles/. Accessed: 08/06/2023.
  4. Residential Floor Tile Removal. Minnesota Department of Health. Retrieved from: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/asbestos/floortile/resft.html. Accessed: 08/06/2023.
  5. Protecting Workers from the Hazards of Asbestos-Containing Flooring Material Maintenance. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3693.pdf. Accessed: 08/06/2023.
  6. Asbestos ceiling tiles. Kanopi by Armstrong. Retrieved from: https://kanopibyarmstrong.com/blogs/news/identifying-asbestos-ceiling-tiles. Accessed: 08/08/2023.
  7. Asbestos Ceiling Tile Identification. Inspectapedia. Retrieved from: https://inspectapedia.com/hazmat/Asbestos_Ceiling_Tiles.php. Accessed: 08/08/2023.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.