Simply, it is a kind of housing insulation that is derived from the mineral vermiculite, which is naturally occurring. When this mineral is exposed to heat, it expands into a lightweight, accordion shaped material. The fact that insulation made from this material is resistant to fire and odorless has made it a popular home insulation choice, and has also led to its use in other products.
While popular, this insulation material can be a source of asbestos in your home, particularly if it was built before 1990. While vermiculite does not contain asbestos itself, during the period before 1990 a significant amount of it was sourced from a mine in Libby, Montana, which was contaminated with asbestos. For this reason, the vermiculite insulation in your home (or your place of work) could also be contaminated with asbestos, which has been shown to cause a wide variety of lung-related diseases and health issues, including mesothelioma.
How Can I Find Out if My Home Has Vermiculite Insulation?
Vermiculite insulation is easy to identify. Unlike other forms of insulation, it is poured in and has an appearance not unlike large bits of brown and grey gravel. Over time or as the result of disturbance, vermiculite insulation can break down and become fine and dusty rather than gravel-like. A simple Internet search will provide images of what vermiculite insulation looks like, which will help you to determine if it is present in your home.
What Should I Do if My Home Has Vermiculite Insulation?
The most important thing is what you shouldn’t do. Do not, under any circumstances, disturb the insulation. Doing so will cause dust particles to enter the air, which – if they’re carrying asbestos – can be easily inhaled into the lungs. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency advises that you do not store items or enter areas where vermiculite insulation is exposed, like your attic for example. Also, if you have children in your home, you should take whatever steps necessary to ensure that they do not enter these areas.
Vermiculite insulation can be removed. However, you should not attempt to do this on your own. Instead, you will need to hire professionals who have experience handling asbestos-contaminated materials. Choosing to handle the removal of vermiculite insulation on your own dramatically increases the risk of exposing yourself to asbestos, and also increases the risk that you will spread it throughout your home, endangering other members of your family. Finally, if you plan on remodeling any parts of your home, and you have vermiculite insulation, it is vitally important that you hire professionals to remove it.
It is worth noting that vermiculite insulation is not necessarily contaminated with asbestos. At the moment, the Environmental Protection Agency and others are working on ways to properly test vermiculite insulation for asbestos contamination. Until these methods are refined, you should always treat vermiculite insulation as if it is contaminated with asbestos.
What If I Have to Enter an Area with Exposed Vermiculite Insulation?
Again, entering areas with exposed vermiculite insulation should be avoided to the maximum extent possible. However, if you must enter such an area, you need to take precautions. You should avoid disturbing the insulation, and absolutely avoid walking on it. If you do manage to disturb the insulation, then it’s important that leave the area immediately. Finally, it is highly advised that you wear a respirator mask. You should note, however, that a normal dust mask will not protect you from inhaling asbestos fibers. So make sure that the respirator mask that you are using is capable of filtering out asbestos.