ASBESTOS IN VERMICULITE
Vermiculite was mined in Libby, Montana,
from the 1920s until the mine closed in 1990. While in operation, the mine in
Libby produced most of the worlds supply of vermiculite. Vermiculite has
been used in building insulation, potting soil and fertilizer. Unfortunately,
the vermiculite from the Libby mine contained a type of naturally-occurring
asbestos called tremolite-actinolite.
How can I be exposed to asbestos in
Not all vermiculite contains asbestos; however,
some products have been made with vermiculite containing asbestos. People can
be exposed to asbestos by breathing or ingesting it. Breathing asbestos fibers
poses the greatest health risk. The amount of asbestos to which a person is
exposed depends on
- how many fibers are in the air and
- how long the air containing asbestos fibers
You can be exposed to asbestos by disturbing
building insulation or other products with asbestos-containing vermiculite. As
long as the asbestos is not released into the air, it is not harmful. If it is
not being disturbed, there is very little exposure and very little
What does vermiculite look like?
Pieces of vermiculite are brownish-gold and are
about ½ inch in size. Pieces look like they are made of several
Can I have the vermiculite in my home
sampled to see if it contains asbestos?
If you want to have the vermiculite in your
home sampled, we recommend that you hire a trained consultant or contractor to
collect the sample and get it analyzed at a laboratory. For information about
licensed contractors in Illinois, please call the Illinois Department of Public
Health Asbestos Section at 217-782-5830.
We discourage collecting the sample yourself.
However, if you follow the contractors suggestions for collecting the
sample, it should not be a problem. To keep the material from getting into the
air, samples should be wet when collected.
What should I do if I have insulation or
other products made with vermiculite in my home?
If the vermiculite in your home contains
asbestos, we recommend that you leave it in place as long as it is in a
location where people are not routinely exposed to it. If it is sealed behind
wallboards and floorboards or is in an attic that is not used for habitation,
the best advice is to leave it in place. By not disturbing the vermiculite, you
are reducing your chances for exposure to asbestos. If vermiculite is
disturbed, it could cause tiny, needle-like asbestos fibers to become airborne.
Asbestos in the air can be inhaled and cause lung damage. If asbestos is not in
the air, it is not dangerous to your lungs. If you must remove any
asbestos-containing vermiculite from your home, you should hire a licensed
Vermiculite is used in some potting soil for
plant growth, and it appears as bright gold or silver flakes. Vermiculite
should not be confused with the white plastic substance also found in many
potting soils. Keeping your potting soil moist keeps the vermiculite moist, and
lowers your chance for exposure to asbestos fibers.
How can vermiculite containing asbestos
affect my health?
Most people exposed to small amounts of
asbestos will not experience adverse health effects. A person must
generally be exposed to asbestos for a long period of time (10 or more years)
before health effects occur.
Illnesses caused by long-term asbestos exposure
- asbestosis, a lung disease caused by
breathing in asbestos fibers causing irritation and scarring of lung tissues
- mesothelioma, a form of cancer in the lining
of the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart caused by exposure to asbestos
- lung cancer, tumors of the lung that are
linked to asbestos exposure as well as other sources of exposure such as
Is there a medical test to show if I have
been exposed to asbestos?
Asbestos fibers cannot be detected in chest
X-rays, but early signs of lung disease can. Lung function tests and high
resolution CAT scans can also detect changes in your lungs.
Where can I get more information?
Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Consumer Product Safety Commission
This fact sheet was supported in part by
funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.