Vermiculite insulation is way worse than I previously thought. I’ve known that vermiculite insulation can contain asbestos, and my advice to homeowners has always been to assume it contains asbestos and leave it alone, which is also the advice of the EPA. If the insulation needs to be removed or disturbed, my advice has previously been to recommend first having it tested for asbestos. When vermiculite is tested for asbestos and is found to contain less than 1% asbestos, it is considered to NOT be asbestos containing. The EPA defines asbestos-containing material or “ACM” as having >1% asbestos. The problem is that this can be a misleading diagnosis because it seems to imply that the product is safe. The photos below show an attic that still had several unopened bags of vermiculite insulation.
Somewhere between 75% – 85% of all vermiculite insulation sold in the U.S. came from a mine in Libby, Montana, and was sold under the name Zonolite. Nearly all of this insulation contained asbestos which could be easily released into the air. As part of a major class-action lawsuit against WR Grace, numerous studies were conducted. One of these studies determined that exposure to vermiculite attic insulation with less than 1% asbestos is still a potential health hazard when performing typical homeowner activities such as cleaning, maintenance, and remodeling activities. The conclusion of this study was that vermiculite insulation containing less than 1% asbestos should not be considered non-asbestos containing. Reinforcing this conclusion is the fact that the type of asbestos found in Libby vermiculite is “amphibole” asbestos, which is even more hazardous than the chrysotile asbestos that was most widely used in the US. It’s still really bad stuff.
For the record, vermiculite looks like the stuff in the photos above and is often covered by other types of insulation. Also, home inspectors are not required to report on the presence of environmental contaminants, but most home inspectors will still educate their clients about stuff like this when they can. My test for whether or not I tell my clients about stuff is “would I want to know this if I were buying this house?” Of course, the answer is always yes.
Side note: the Zonolite Attic Trust believes that the presence of vermiculite is tantamount to the presence of asbestos (since the EPA recommends assuming that it contains asbestos) and should be disclosed in real estate transactions in the same manner as other ACM would be disclosed under the state’s real estate regulations. Further, the Trust believes that the presence of vermiculite is a “material fact” in a real estate transaction and should be treated in the same manner as other material facts.
The Good News
The Zonolite Attic Insulation trust was established in 2014 to help homeowners with the cost of removing Zonolite Attic Insulation from their homes. The trust will reimburse homeowners for 55% of their removal and re-insulation costs, with a maximum payout per owner of $4,125. Check out the video clip below for the highlights:
Visit http://www.zonoliteatticinsulation.com/ for more information.