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|Virtually everything you need to understand vermiculite hazards, compliance, and remediation is on these pages, the downloads and links.|
Asbestos contamination in vermiculite and vermiculite products has become a national concern to many private citizens throughout the country. A tremendous amount of information has been made available to the public via print, television/radio and the Internet. EPA's vermiculite pages provides users with basic information about Vermiculite and its uses, factsheets, Question and Answer documents, reports and links to EPA Regional vermiculite pages.
EPA in conjunction with Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has launched a national awareness campaign to arm homeowners with important information on vermiculite attic insulation.
Learn more about vermiculite.
Asbestos contamination in vermiculite and vermiculite products has become a national concern to a variety of federal agencies (EPA, OSHA, CPSC and ATSDR) and to many private citizens throughout the country. A tremendous amount of information has been made available to the public via print, television/radio and the Internet. EPA's vermiculite pages provides users with basic information about Vermiculite and its uses, factsheets, Question and Answer documents, reports and links to EPA Regional vermiculite pages. Other relevant information, not included here, may be available from federal, state and local governments, industry, trade associations and international sources.
In response to reports it received about adverse human health impacts associated with exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) conducted a series of tests to evaluate the extent and nature of the
risk. The results of this investigation indicate that the potential exposure to asbestos
from some vermiculite products poses only a minimal health risk to consumers,
although workers may face more serious risks.
What is vermiculite and where does it come from?
Vermiculite is produced from ore mined throughout the world. In the United
States, mines are located in Montana, South Carolina, and Virginia. When heated,
the ore expands into a light, rather fluffy material, that is fire resistant, chemically
inert, absorbent, light weight, and odorless. The absorbent properties of the expanded
vermiculite make it useful in lawn and garden, agricultural, and horticultural
products. Other common uses are as thermal and sound insulation, construction
material, insulation material, and for lightweight, absorbent packaging material.
Where does the asbestos come from and why is it a health concern?
Vermiculite ores often contain a range of other minerals including, in some
cases, asbestos. Asbestos is not a major contaminant, and only a few ore deposits
have been found to contain more than trace amounts of asbestos minerals. However,
exposure to airborne asbestos particles has been linked to respiratory ailments including
cancer, and EPA is concerned about the increased risk to consumers and
workers from use of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite products.
What has EPA done to assess the risk?
To evaluate the risk posed by compounds such as asbestos, EPA needs to
determine if the contaminant is present in certain products and also whether people
come in contact with sufficient quantities to cause harm. For asbestos, this means
that airborne fibers need to be inhaled and lodged into the lungs. EPA began its
investigation by purchasing and testing a number of vermiculite products available in
garden stores across the country. Only 15 percent (8/54) of these products contained
enough asbestos to allow EPA to quantify the percentage of asbestos reliably. Further
analysis of the likelihood of the asbestos becoming airborne, during routine use
of these products, indicated that this potential exposure poses a minimal health risk to
consumers. Vermiculite products may, however, present more serious risks in a work
setting where the frequency and duration of exposures are likely to be significantly
greater. EPA has provided the report of its investigation,Sampling and Analysis of
Consumer Garden Products That Contain Vermiculite, to the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA) to assist that Office in evaluating the hazards to
workers from exposure to certain vermiculite products.
What Can Consumers Do?
To further reduce the low risk associated with the occasional use of vermiculite
products during gardening activities, EPA recommends that consumers can do the
• Use vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
• Keep vermiculite damp while using it to reduce the amount of dust
• Avoid bringing dust from vermiculite use into the home on clothing.
• Use premixed potting soil, which usually contains more moisture
and less vermiculite than a pure vermiculite product, and is less likely
to generate dust.
• Use other soil additives such as peat, sawdust, perlite, or bark.
For More Information
• Contact EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Assistance
Information Service, 202-554-1404, for additional information or to
obtain a copy of the vermiculite survey report identified above.
• Go to EPA’s Asbestos website atwww.epa.gov/asbestos.
The vermiculite garden product survey report also will be posted there.
• For more information on risks to workers, contact the OSHA Public
Affairs Office, 202-693-1999, or visit the OSHA website at
Vermiculite and Its Uses
What is Vermiculite?
Vermiculite is the mineralogical name given to hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-ironsilicate which resembles mica in appearance. All vermiculite ores contain a range of other minerals that were formed along with the vermiculite in the rock. Vermiculite ores from some sources have been found to contain asbestos minerals but asbestos is not intrinsic to vermiculite and only a few ore bodies have been found to contain more than tiny trace amounts.
Vermiculite mines are surface operations where ore is separated from other minerals, and then screened or classified into several basic particle sizes. Vermiculite is found in various parts of the world. Locations of the predominant commercial mines are in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, South Africa, USA and Zimbabwe.
When subjected to heat, vermiculite has the unusual property of exfoliating or expanding into worm-like pieces (the name vermiculite is derived from the Latin 'vermiculare' - to breed worms). This characteristic of exfoliation, the basis for commercial use of the mineral, is the result of the mechanical separation of the layers by the rapid conversion of contained water to steam. The increase in bulk volume of commercial grades is 8 to 12 times, but individual flakes may exfoliate as many as 30 times. There is a color change during expansion that is dependent upon the composition of the vermiculite and furnace temperature.
How Is Vermiculite Used?
Vermiculite has been used in various industries for over 80 years. It is used in the construction, agricultural, horticultural and industrial markets.
Generic Applications -
|Lightweight Aggregates||Soil Conditioners|
|Asbestos Substitutions||Density Modifiers|
|Industrial Heat Insulation|
Specific Applications -
|Acoustic Finishes||Gypsum Plaster|
|Air Setting Binder Board||Loft Insulation|
|Fire Protection (internal/external)||Sound Deadening Compounds|
|Floor and Roof Screed (lightweight insulating concrete)|
|Anti-caking Material||Seed Encapsulant|
|Bulking Agent||Soil Conditioner|
|Blocking Mixes||Seed Germination|
|Hydroponics||Seedling Wedge Mix|
|Potting Mixes||Twin Scaling Bulbs|
|Absorbent Packing||Insulation Blocks and Shapes|
|Brake Pads and Brake Shoes||Insulation - High and Low Temperature|
|Castables||Molten Metal Insulation|
|Drilling Muds||Nuclear Waste Disposal|
|Fireproof Safes||Perfume Absorbent|
|Fixation of Hazardous Materials||Sealants|
Vermiculite Insulation Report -
Final Draft - Pilot Study to Estimate Asbestos Exposure from Vermiculite Attic Insulation - Research Conducted in 2001 and 2002 [PDF] - EPA has recently completed a pilot study to evaluate the level of asbestos in vermiculite attic insulation (VAI) and whether there is a risk to homeowners. The study was designed to: (1) obtain a rough estimate of the amount of asbestos in attics with vermiculite attic insulation; and (2) obtain a rough estimate of a person’s exposure to asbestos while performing common household activities.
The figures and tables have been posted separately from the report in order to help reduce download time. All figures and tables are in the Adobe PDF format.
Figures [PDF] -
Figure 1 Figure 6 Figure 2 Figure 7 Figure 3 Figure 8 Figure 4 Figure 9 Figure 5 Figure 10
Tables [PDF] -
Tables 1 and 2 Table 8 Table 3 Table 9 Table 4 Table 10 Table 5 Table 11 Table 6 Table 12 Table 7
Current Best Practices for Vemiculite Attic Insulation [PDF] - As of May, 2003
This publication is also available from the TSCA Hotline at 1-800-471-7127, request EPA publication number 747-F-03-001
Current Best Practices for Vermiculite Attic Insulation - As of May, 2003
Garden Product Report
Sampling and Analysis of Consumer Garden Products That Contain Vermiculite [PDF] - The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) and US EPA Region 10 (Seattle, WA) conducted independent surveys of consumer garden products containing vermiculite. OPPT and US EPA Region 10 are jointly releasing the findings as a single report.
EPA Garden Products Fact Sheet [PDF] - August, 2000
EPA Regional Vermiculite Links
Global Environmental and Technology Foundation (GETF) - Links to GETF's report entitled - Asbestos Strategies - Lessons Learned About Management and Use of Asbestos
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