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How dangerous is vermiculite insulation?

The idea of insulating your home with a natural, odorless, heat-resistant, fire-retardant substance has an obvious appeal. Unfortunately, in some cases there’s a catch. Vermiculite insulation, while effective and harmless on its own, is usually contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.

Vermiculite is a mineral that comes out of the earth in the form of shiny, mica-like flakes. It expands when heated in an oven. At that point it appears in the form of worm-like, oblong chunks. In past decades, people would buy a bag of it and pour it into the walls of existing homes for added insulation. It was sold in the US between 1919 and 1990, and most of it was mined from a single location near Libby, Montana. It’s because of this that so much of it was contaminated with another mineral, asbestos. (Any concentration above 1% is considered contamination.)

How dangerous is vermiculite insulation?

Because this product is no longer sold, the main issue with it is its presence in houses that were insulated before the 1990s. If that applies to you, the most common advice is that given to anyone who lives in a building with asbestos isolation: leave it alone, since it’s harmless when undisturbed. Problems arise when the homeowner needs to remove the insulation or a building needs to be demolished.

At that point, you can tell whether it contains asbestos only by sending it to a lab that specializes in asbestos detection. If testing hasn’t been done, you should assume any vermiculite insulation does contain asbestos. Anyone who removes it should wear protective gear and ideally be an asbestos removal professional, and care should be taken not to cut into or crush the vermiculite particles.

How dangerous is vermiculite insulation?

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