Vermiculite insulation is one of those materials, commonly found in the home in the Northwest, that can contain Asbestos—-depending on where it was mined. While the only way to know for sure is to have it tested, that is no longer the “current recommendation.”
According to the EPA: “Currently, there are specific technical issues involving vermiculite sampling that can complicate testing for the presence of asbestos fibers and interpreting the risk from exposure. EPA and ATSDR are not recommending at this time that homeowners have vermiculite attic insulation tested for asbestos. As testing techniques are refined, EPA and ATSDR will provide information to the public on the benefits of testing that produce more definitive and accurate test results.”
In my opinion it is best to assume that all vermiculite contains asbestos. I recommend following EPA recommendations at: EPA Vermiculite Recommendations regarding testing, disposal and personal protection regarding vermiculite insulation. When remodeling involves disturbing of these materials, professional removal is recommended. Having to remove these materials should be anticipated by anyone buying a house with vermiculite insulation.
Vermiculite is most commonly found in attics but was also used in walls. In is often hidden under layers of other types of insulation. Because it flows very easily, if there are holes from the attic into walls it can easily find its way from the attic to the crawl space, basement or even the living space.
While most documented cases of injury due to asbestos in vermiculite seems to involve workers, families of workers and people in close proximity to the mines, I think it is prudent to be careful with the stuff, and let only experienced professionals handle it. If you find this material in your home—-leave it alone—do not disturb it. This is one sleeping bear that should be left sleeping!
Hopefully, the EPA will have more meaningful guidelines for us all soon.
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