When you discover that you have vermiculite insulation in your attic you basically have two choices. You “leave it alone” or have it “professionally removed.” That sounds simple enough, but what is an inspector to say when they find where it has not been “professionally” removed? In these two pictures you can see the small piles of remaining vermiculite.
Well, like so many things, it gets complicated.
First of all, even vermiculite that has asbestos in it, has a very small percentage present. Couple that with the point in time (a few years ago) when it was assumed that that testing was reliable. It might be possible to have a certification for the material that says the material is “asbestos free,” while in reality it does have asbestos in it. Current knowledge says that testing is not conclusive. Now lets add to that, that homeowners are allowed to remove it themselves in some jurisdictions if they follow the proper protocols including getting the necessary permits etc.
Again, what is an inspector to say where it is obvious that the material has been removed?
Lets forget for a moment whether it was professionally done, or whether the homeowner did it. As an inspector we can not know whether the stuff had asbestos in it or not. What if the homeowner decided to do it themselves? Let’s make the giant leap to assuming that they went to the trouble to get the stuff tested and they have the results of a test (in writing) that says it has levels of asbestos below what is considered hazardous. Now lets for the sake of discussion say that we have now found out that the test was faulty and the stuff actually does contain asbestos?
Current regulations say to assume that vermiculite contains asbestos and treat it accordingly.
We now have a home in which the vermiculite containing asbestos has been removed, but have no idea how it was removed. Remember the homeowner assumed it had no asbestos—-they have a piece of paper that says so. I can imagine shovels and brooms and a regular old shop-vac churning the stuff up into a nice cloud of dust so thick they couldn’t see across the attic. It is not too hard to imagine this fine dust cloud finding its way throughout the home and half the neighborhood—hopefully they wore a respirator.
No doubt the worst exposure is going to be for whoever removed the stuff—-we just don’t know how much effect the dispersion throughout the home and neighborhood will have. While my personal opinion is that any problem is highly remote, I can’t support that opinion relative to what the EPA has to say about it.
For “better or worse” we are married to meeting the requirements of the EPA regarding Asbestos. Who is to say that some rug rat crawling around in the dust in the basement family room isn’t picking up some of this redistributed vermiculite dust? The rug rat may not even know for 30 or 40 years.
While I asked the rhetorical question of what is the “responsible” thing for the inspector to say, it is pretty obvious the inspector MUST not be mute on the information.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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