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It is well known that asbestos presents a significant risk to the health of individuals if exposed to asbestos fibres. In the manufacturing process of materials, asbestos was added primarily to improve the longevity, fire resistivity and water resistivity of the material. One material that asbestos was added to in the manufacturing process was polymers.

The most common polymer materials that were used are:

  • Thermoplastic tiles
  • Vinyl products
  • Mastics

Thermoplastic tiles were produced in a wide range colours, styles/patterns as well as size (generally old tiles are smaller than newer tiles). They were used in both residential and commercial properties regularly in the kitchen, laundry, bathroom, hallways and shop floors. Thermoplastic tiles provided a cheaper alternative to ceramic tiles while still providing the same benefits – easy to clean, hard wearing, and a wide range of styles.

Thermoplastic tiles that contain asbestos cannot be identified based on appearance; complete sample analysis must be undertaken. Additionally the thermoplastic tiles themselves may not contain any asbestos but the glue used to attach them to the surface could also contain asbestos. Therefore it is best to have the tile and glue analysed for asbestos.

Vinyl products are similar to thermoplastic tiles in that they were manufactured in a wide range of colours, patterns and styles. The main difference is that vinyl products are manufactured in large sheets where thermoplastic tiles are individual tiles. Also vinyl products are flexible where thermoplastic tiles snap when bent. Vinyl products were also used in similar locations throughout buildings as thermoplastic tiles.

The vinyl flooring itself can contain asbestos but additionally the glue used to stick it to the surface can contain asbestos as well. Unlike thermoplastic tiles, vinyl products may also have a paper backing which was commonly manufactured with asbestos. The paper backing is considered to be a friable material and can present a significant risk to health if exposed when the material is damaged or disturbed.

Mastics differ significantly from thermoplastic tiles and vinyl products. Mastics were used primarily as sealant type products and are commonly found as movement joints in walls and as a seal between sections of ventilation ducting. Mastics are soft and flexible allowing for movement between sections while still providing a strong water resistant seal.

All of these polymer materials and many more types of polymers are still manufactured and used in buildings today but the difference is that they do not contain any asbestos fibres.

Author: Stuart Lumsden

Stuart Lumsden


A Bachelor of Forensic Science in Applied Chemistry from the University of Technology, Sydney, Stuart is a Property Risk Assessor who specialises in the area of Asbestos and Hazardous Materials.