What is vermiculite?

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that is composed of shiny flakes that resemble mica. When heated to a high temperature, vermiculite flakes can expand as large as 30 times their original size. Expanded vermiculite is lightweight, odorless and fire-resistant and is therefore used in a number of products, including potting soil, concrete, brakes, pesticides, and insulation. It is also the prime source of friable asbestos.

Is vermiculate insulation a health concern?

Vermiculate was insulation was sold as attic and wall insulation in millions of homes as late as the 1980s. Since it was an inexpensive, economic way to address insulation and fireproofing, however, it was found to contain asbestos. Although vermiculite itself was not initially known to be a health problem, vermiculite-based insulation has been known to contain asbestos fibers, which can cause problems. Generally, vermiculite-based insulation does not create a concern, so long as it remains intact and undisturbed behind intact walls or in attic spaces. It is also important that the fibers not become airborne.

How can you minimize the risk of asbestos exposure from vermiculite?

The best way to minimize asbestos exposure from vermiculite is to not remove or disturb the insulation. By moving the vermiculite, fibers will become airborne, however, by following precautions, you can objectively prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air.

Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with vermiculite insulation:

  • Assume asbestos contamination: Since there’s not a firm cut off date for asbestos contaminated insulation, you should treat all vermiculite insulation as though it contains asbestos. The EPA recommends erring on the side of caution, rather than testing for asbestos.
  • Do not disturb vermiculite: You should never stir, handle or move vermiculite insulation, or do anything that might create dust. Even the smallest movements can make asbestos particles airborne. If asbestos is undisturbed and sealed away, remediation may not be necessary.
  • Professional Asbestos Removal Contractor: If you’re planning on remodeling that will make particles from vermiculite insulation airborne, or if you want to remediate the building, you should hire an professional asbestos removal contractor. Professional-grade pressure systems can protect living spaces from air contamination during the removal process.
  • Keep out of contaminated areas: Do not store anything in attics containing the vermiculite insulation and make sure the area is off limits.
  • Seal off vermiculite insulation: make sure any area containing vermiculite insulation is sealed off from the interior of your home. Caulk or spray foam around seams, light fixtures, fans, and switches, as well as plumbing pipes or other openings where insulation dust might filter in.
  • Warn workers about vermiculite insulation: Anyone working on your home should understand the risks of working around vermiculite insulation. Take special precaution before cutting a hole in the walls or ceiling if vermiculite testing may be disturbed.
  • Wear protection around vermiculite insulation: If you have to be exposed to the insulation, even for a short period of time, wear goggles and HEPA respirator.

If you still believe your home is at risk for asbestos exposure from vermiculite insulation, you should have an asbestos survey performed by a DOSH-certified Asbestos consultant and certified site surveillance technician, to determine whether or not you face any potential risks. Contact Rarefied Air Environmental today to receive a free quote on an asbestos survey for your home or building.