So you’re in the process of buying an older home and your home inspector observes vermiculite insulation in the attic. The natural reaction for many is to immediately connect vermiculite insulation with the presence of asbestos. Bad move, the fear factor and uncertainty are sure to follow. There is a distinct possibility that the vermiculite insulation doesn’t contain asbestos and it is important to know that not all vermiculite insulation produced contained asbestos fibres.
Attics are generally designed to be a separate space from the heated living area of a home. The concern with vermiculite insulation material is that in some cases it has been known to contain asbestos fibres. The only way to confirm the presence or level of asbestos in vermiculite is to have the material laboratory tested. Until the vermiculite is tested, speculation regarding its asbestos content is pointless.
Testing vermiculite for asbestos is an easy, economical and fast process. Gather a sample, send it to the laboratory and within hours you’ll have the results.
In cases where asbestos is determined not to be present in the vermiculite you are good to go. If asbestos is found most likely it’ll be the actinolite variety.
Actinolite in asbestos
Actinolite is a type of asbestos mineral found in vermiculite. When mixed with vermiculite it made for an effective, light-weight insulation material.
In regards to classifying vermiculite insulation that contains asbestos and how its removal is commercially regulated, I refer to WorkSafe BC, as they are the authority whose jurisdiction is to oversee the removal process. WorkSafe BC regulations define vermiculite containing any level of actinolite as an asbestos containing material. When removed commercially it has to be done so in a prescribed manner.
Vermiculite containing actinolite may cause health risks if disturbed. Widely accepted research concludes that there is no evidence of risk to one’s health if the insulation is sealed behind wallboards and floorboards, isolated in an attic, or otherwise kept from exposure to the home or interior environment.
If the home you are considering purchasing has vermiculite containing asbestos you can choose to leave it undisturbed or you can consider its removal. If you are considering removal make sure that you have a cost and risk assessment conducted by person who has knowledge of the management and control of asbestos hazards, such as a professional restoration company before you buy.
The end result may be to leave the material undisturbed, or to remove it using approved methods.