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Vermiculite Insulation


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I have had vermiculite in my first home when I bought it, never understanding fully what it meant because I wanted the house so much. The testing is unreliable at best. I believe that you can manipulate the results you want to achieve from how many, where or what depth they are taken from.

Although it is easy to say to leave it alone, when renovating, it is at the fire stops when you open walls amongst other places. It's not like you can avoid it forever if you just don't go in the attic.

What it relates to is how other people perceive it. It could affect the resale value of your home which I do inform people verbally although that tidbit doesn't make it in the inspection.

Removal is expensive. It deters others from buying the home, irregardless of asbestos contents.

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  • 2 years later...

Actually stumbled across this old thread while doing a google search looking for a specific epa link. Kinda amazed at the lack of knowledge on the subject matter in the home inspection field.

Vermiculite is a product that is very unique when compared to any of the other 10,000 products that contain asbestos. The reason for this is quite simple. Asbestos was not intentionally put into vermiculite, but rather is a contaminate of the product.

How is this possible? 95% of all vermiculite was mined in Libby Montanna prior to roughly 1985 (the mine itself was operational another 5 years but production tapered off). It just so happens, that tremolite asbestos was also present in the same mine. The veins of each mineral intertwined and separated then met again, in such a way that the actual amount of asbestos present could vary quite substantially.

This presents a significant problem in testing. Unlike a manufactured material, such as floor tile, the distribution of the asbestos will vary greatly. You can literally pull 100 samples from different locations in an attic, and get quite a wide range of results.

Also to consider is the manner in which the sample is pulled, you will almost always get a higher reading if you dig down deep into the vermiculite (where the fines are located).

Understanding how normal Asbestos bulk samples are analyzed also adds to the confusion. Typically speaking a lab tech would pull a small piece of a suspect material, tease it and then place it under a polarizing light microscope. He then begins to determine if asbestos is present, and if so, at what concentration. You need to understand, this sample he is looking at is so minutely small (think of something the size of the head of a pin, only smaller), and you can start to see why it is nearly impossible to conclusively say that no asbestos is present when dealing with the uniqueness of vermiculite (once again due to the fact that asbestos was a contaminate and not added intentionally).

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Another thing to consider, is that while the typical amounts of asbestos (based on percentage) are relatively small (typically less then 1%) your usually dealing with a rather large area (typical attic space of 1000 square feet at a depth of say 6-10 inches). The material is also very dry, and very easily airborne. Studies have been done in which the vermiculite in an attic tested at only trace amounts, yet while performing air monitoring during a residential project that included the removal of the ceiling, the exposure of asbestos fibers was several times over the permissible exposure limit allowed by the EPA

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For starters pulling a bulk sample or two is not conclusive enough to tell your client the vermiculite is asbestos free, or has such a low concentration it is non-hazardous.

It's a disservice to your client to poo-poo it's presence (the aka " I've been doing this for 30 years, etc etc argument).

If the house was built prior to 1985, and has vermiculite you should assume it does indeed have asbestos in it ( do to the aforementioned there is really no point in even testing it).

As long as it remains undisturbed it is relatively benign. However, such activities as house renovations, adding additional attic insulation, using the space for storage, are all things which should be avoided unless the material is removed properly prior.

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Kinda amazed at the lack of knowledge on the subject matter in the home inspection field.

I researched this topic extensively. Spoke to the EPA, interviewed testing labs, wrote 2 articles, presented it to thousands of inspectors when speaking at seminars for home inspectors. You've determined a "lack of knowledge" in an entire profession based on a couple of posts on an internet board?

Inspectors I've spoken to know very well that vermiculite installed between 1923 and 1990 could contain asbestos. They know that 80% of all vermiculite came from the Zonolite - Grace Co. mines in Libby (where did you get 95%?). They know that ethical labs admit that test results for asbestos in vermiculite have absolutely no correlation to the actual asbestos content in the vermiculite installed in the home.

Folks in this business that I know advise their clients of all the above and offer practical advice to reduce their risk of exposure.

http://www.oldhouseweb.com/how-to-advic ... stos.shtml

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I researched this topic extensively. Spoke to the EPA, interviewed testing labs, wrote 2 articles, presented it to thousands of inspectors when speaking at seminars for home inspectors. You've determined a "lack of knowledge" in an entire profession based on a couple of posts on an internet board?

I acknowledge that you seem to have a very good grasp of the issues at hand, others on here not so much. I now turn your question around and rephrase it my way. I have been in the asbestos inspection business for 25 years, do you think this is my first interaction with home building inspectors?

Yes I have seen a few inspectors that had a firm grasp of things, but trust me, I have seen far more that were severly lacking in knowledge in at least this one particular area.

Don't even get me started on Realtor's.........

As for the 95% to 80% it depends on your source, EPA just states "nearly all or much" in much of their literature. In my eyes its a rather trivial thing to argue about.

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As for the convoluted laws regarding vermiculite, it is my belief at least part of this has to do with the EPA managed Superfund site in Libby Montana. The stricter they make the laws, the more it cost them to clean it up.

Not that our precious EPA would ever do such a thing (cough cough world trade center)

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Most building inspectors look for the two obvious forms of asbestos found in older homes, asbestos paper on forced or gravity fed furnaces, and asbestos pipe insulation on boiler pipes and mag insulation on the boiler themselves.

Some are finally starting to catch on with the vermiculite and pesky 9 x 9 floor tiles.

Most miss older linoleum backing, plaster, applied texture on ceilings, window caulk, transite shingles and siding, chimney mud, and a few others that are not coming to mind atm.

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Most building inspectors look for the two obvious forms of asbestos found in older homes, asbestos paper on forced or gravity fed furnaces, and asbestos pipe insulation on boiler pipes and mag insulation on the boiler themselves.

Some are finally starting to catch on with the vermiculite and pesky 9 x 9 floor tiles.

Most miss older linoleum backing, plaster, applied texture on ceilings, window caulk, transite shingles and siding, chimney mud, and a few others that are not coming to mind atm.

Anyone else think this sounds eerily like a *John Bubber* thread?

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You seem like a well intended fellow, but honestly, you're more than a bit presumptuous in your blanket statements about folks knowledge regarding asbestos.

I am supposing your work area, which is approximately midway between almost nowhere and nowhere, keeps you isolated enough that you imagine you know something. And gee whiz, 25 years in asbestos work...that's....umm.....ummmm......yeah, gee whiz.....

You're certainly welcome to hang around here and learn something, but I'd find it a bit more enjoyable if you put a lid on your presumptions and have a shred of respect for the collected knowledge of the folks on this board, which is as good as anywhere you're going to find.

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Most building inspectors look for the two obvious forms of asbestos found in older homes, asbestos paper on forced or gravity fed furnaces, and asbestos pipe insulation on boiler pipes and mag insulation on the boiler themselves.

You analyzed data collected about inspectors across the nation to make this pronouncement? Most folks I work with can identify a rather long list of ACMs in older buildings.
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I just locked the guy out. He went aflame on me. I shouldn't have called him a dork. I deleted my comment; sorry for being honest.

For chrissakes, I remember Kibbel talking about this stuff at least 20+ years ago, and everyone I know in the biz knew about this stuff sometime back in the mid 80's.

We have the misfortune of working in a profession where useful and accurate knowledge can be superseded by just about anyone. The whole question of "may contain" or "does contain" gets lost in the general hysteria. Couple that to the secondary, tertiary, 4 layers, 5, 6, 7, and 8 layers of subrogated asbestos litigation, and the whole thing gets pretty squirrely. Drive down the Tri State and every 3rd billboard is some PI attorney advertising for mesothelioma legal services. It doesn't make me want to get very authoritative about asbestos, that's for sure.

The EPA even states on their own handout that the information is in flux and they're working on getting it right. So, what are we supposed to tell folks?

That's what I was trying to get at with the guy, and he took it as folks in here not knowing anything.

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He does make a good point, that when a ceiling was removed, the asbestos levels in the air went way up. Obviously, the vermiculite should be removed professionaly before the ceiling is torn down, regardless of the test results. We agree that the tests are inconclusive anyway.

Even after removal of the insulation, there will be dust between the planks and the lath. Also there will be asbestos in the plaster dust, even if there was no vermiculite insulation in the attic.

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He does make a good point...

I agree. He had something to offer this forum but an ego came with it, much like mine once did [:-paperba and there wasn't time enough for it to deflate before he got locked out. Happens quite a bit.

Don't get me wrong, all the mods here are great. It's just unfortunate what happens to some new guys.

Marc

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It's not about new guys. It's about arrogant proclamations and assumptions. Everyone's a new guy AFAIC. I'm only as good as my last statement.

If I walk into someone's scene, I take a few minutes, hours, days, or weeks to get a lay of the land before I open my mouth. This guy walks in and starts lecturing us on HI's, the profession, and what we all don't know. I gave him a relatively mild put down and request for a little respect and he goes to flame with the usual "I've been doing this 25 years and know more than anyone in the room" appeal from authority/statistical syllogism argument. Screw that.

He was interpreting my existential cry into the wilderness of asbestos commentary as one of me not knowing what to tell folks. I know very well what to tell folks and it doesn't correlate with a lot of what I know and believe.

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  • 6 years later...

Is it safe to assume that Zonolite brand insulation does contain asbestos? Is it possible that an attic can be insulated with Zonolite and not be contaminated with asbestos? I mention the concern and direct clients to the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust when I see the bags. But I'm curious for my own knowledge base.

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3 hours ago, CNewhouse said:

Is it safe to assume that Zonolite brand insulation does contain asbestos? Is it possible that an attic can be insulated with Zonolite and not be contaminated with asbestos? I mention the concern and direct clients to the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust when I see the bags. But I'm curious for my own knowledge base.

Given the uselessness of testing, absolute answers to your questions are unknowable. 

That said, if we're talking about assumptions, I think it's safer (for everyone) to assume that Zonolite does contain asbestos. 

Likewise, it's *unlikely* that an attic can be insulated with Zonolite and not be contaminated. 

 

 

 

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On 2/13/2012 at 5:08 PM, Neal Lewis said:

A recent test by a lab of vermiculite insulation in an attic that i inspected showed no asbestos contenet at all. This is only the second time I know of that vermiculite has been tested from a house I inspected. The other one tested negative also. Of course what you read about vermiculite on the internet pretty much says that older vermiculite will contain asbestos.

 

Does anyone else have experience with test results of this stuff?

I call it out as having the possibility of containing asbestos. The reason it may contain asbestos is that the majority of vermiculate insulation in North America came from a mine in Montana and got comingled with asbestos. 

The following statement was copied and pasted.  

Vermiculite from the mine near Libby, Montana, is contaminated with tremolite asbestos and other amphibole fibers (winchite and richterite). Asbestos-contaminated Libby vermiculite was used in loose-fill attic insulation that remains in millions of homes in the United States, Canada, and other countries.

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