If you live in the US, you might know that vermiculite insulation has a bad reputation. So, finding it in your home or potential new home, you might be concerned.
The negative opinion of vermiculite insulation is linked to asbestos. I get it; no one wants to mess around when it comes to such a dangerous substance. However, just because you have vermiculite insulation doesn’t always mean you should rush to have it removed.
Vermiculite insulation might be contaminated by asbestos. Official organizations recommend leaving the insulation alone and undisturbed. However, if there is a reason this is unavoidable, the insulation should be tested for asbestos to ensure it can be removed safely.
Leave Vermiculite Insulation Alone
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and state health departments recommend that you leave vermiculite insulation undisturbed whenever possible.
Between 1940 and 1984, a major distributor of vermiculite insulation in North America was sourcing the mineral from a mine in Montana. This mine had asbestos deposits that contaminated the material.
If you move or disturb tainted vermiculite, you encourage any asbestos fibers to become airborne. Once the fibers are airborne, they can get into your lungs, putting your health at risk.
If vermiculite was installed prior to 1990, you should assume it’s likely contaminated.
Get It Tested Before Removing It
If you need to or would prefer to have the vermiculite removed, you can get it tested for asbestos. If the insulation was part of the approximate 70% of vermiculite insulation that came from Libby, you will need to have it removed with special procedures and safety measures.
There is no other way to know than to send a sample to an asbestos lab since there will be no visible signs of contamination.
In addition, even if your insulation was installed before 1990, there were other sources of vermiculite that were unaffected by asbestos.
Testing will prove if your insulation is from the 70% that came from the mine in Montana, can be removed (or left in place) without worry, or if you need to be careful.
You need to hire accredited professionals to remove and dispose of the insulation safely.
Testing for Asbestos
You will need to call in a professional to test the insulation.
An insulation service or an occupational hygienist can perform the sampling, and you (or the professional) can send it to a laboratory that tests for asbestos. While you can technically take the sample yourself, this is not recommended.
You should be able to drop the sample off or have it couriered to the lab.
You will have to pay for the sampling and testing of the insulation on top of any services for removing it. However, you may have the opportunity to claim some cover from the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust.
When You May Need To Remove It
Vermiculite is a mineral that is heated to enlarge the particles, which are used as loose-fill insulation.
This mineral is mold-resistant and durable, characteristics that make it a great insulator.
So, if you are having mold problems, it will be on the structures around the insulation, like wooden frames, drywall, and ceiling boards.
You need to get past the insulation to clean and treat the mold issue properly, which will likely require removing the insulation anyway but would also disrupt the vermiculite and any asbestos if you didn’t.
It would be too risky to not have the insulation removed in this scenario.
Construction Will Disturb It
Any construction work for repair or remodeling can require the disturbance of the insulation cavities, even if you are not specifically targeting the space where the vermiculite is found.
Attics are where you can typically find this insulation, and construction workers will likely need to access the attic space for wiring, even if no work is technically being done on or around the insulation.
The potential disturbance from construction projects can be enough to make your home unsafe for not only your household but also for the on-site workers.
Special safety gear and precautions must be taken, considering that typical face masks can’t protect from asbestos, even if they are fine for most materials.
There Are High-Risk Individuals in the Home
Asbestos impacts the respiratory system, so leaving the vermiculite insulation in your home might not be worth the risk if you or one of your household has a sensitivity to such health issues.
People who suffer from any form of reduced lung function from an illness or condition (i.e., asthma) or habit (i.e., smoking) may be heavily impacted. Even slight disturbances to the asbestos fibers if you have to move something or enter a space containing the insulation could be problematic.
Asbestos fibers enter the lungs and will irritate the entire respiratory system, which can cause serious damage, inflammation, and irritation to a vulnerable individual. Asbestos can also begin to impact other organs.
Having Trouble Selling
Unfortunately, the reputation attached to vermiculite insulation in North America can result in a poor reaction to the presence of the mineral material. If you are putting your home on the market, it may become an issue for potential buyers.
You will likely need to test the insulation to show that there is no danger. You might even find that the stigma against vermiculite might overwhelm test results that show there is no asbestos.
If you don’t get the insulation tested or you get a positive result for asbestos, you might have issues getting the full value of the property if buyers are faced with affording removal and replacement of the insulation.
It Starts Migrating Into Living Areas
Since the buildings that used the contaminated insulation are older, you might find that the material has moved into spaces where it can start entering your living areas.
Likewise, the age of the homes might mean certain structures have lost integrity, so gaps are appearing where they shouldn’t be.
If it is moving out of the insulation cavities, you cannot leave vermiculite undisturbed to prevent it from entering your living space’s air. The material is already being disturbed and is now a health hazard, so you will need to remove it if you cannot seal the gaps sufficiently.
The Area Needs to Be Accessed Regularly
As I mentioned earlier, attics contain insulation. However, it’s not unusual for attic space to be utilized.
Government health organizations say that if you need to access an area with asbestos-tainted insulation on very rare occasions, you should take some precautions. This refers to attic insulation, as opening walls will be too intrusive for the material.
But with attics, you can carefully navigate over the boarded walkway and should do anything in the attic slowly and gently to minimize disturbing the asbestos. Once you have completed your task, you should leave the attic immediately and not return for a few days to allow everything to settle.
If you have a system in the attic or use it for storage, that means you regularly want to enter the space, and it is safer to remove the insulation entirely.