United States
Environmental Protection
Agency for Toxic
Substances and
Disease Registry
Current Best Practices for
Vermiculite Attic
   May 2003

What is vermiculite insulation?
It is an insulation product that contains a mineral
called vermiculite that in the past came from a
mine in Libby, Montana. Today, vermiculite is
mined at three U.S. facilities and in other countries.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that has
the unusual property of expanding into worm-like
accordion shaped pieces when heated. The
expanded vermiculite is  a light-weight, fire-
resistant, absorbent, and odorless material. These
properties allow vermiculite to be used to make
numerous products, including attic insulation.

Do I  have vermiculite insulation?
Vermiculite can be purchased in various forms for
various uses. Sizes of vermiculite products range
from very fine particles to large (coarse) pieces
nearly an inch long. Vermiculite attic insulation is a
pebble-like, pour-in product and is usually light-
brown or gold in color. The pictures in the center
of this pamphlet and on the cover show several
samples of vermiculite attic insulation.

Is vermiculite  insulation a problem?
Prior to 1990, much of the world's supply of
vermiculite came from a mine near Libby, Montana.
The Libby mine also had a natural deposit of
asbestos, and the vermiculite from Libby is
contaminated with asbestos. Attic insulation
produced using vermiculite ore, particularly ore that
originated from the Libby mine, may contain
asbestos fibers.

How does asbestos cause health
 Asbestos can cause health problems when
inhaled into the lungs. If products containing
asbestos are disturbed, thin,  lightweight asbestos
fibers are released into the air. Persons breathing
the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued
exposure increases the amount of fibers that
remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue
overtime may result in lung diseases such as
asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
Smoking increases your risk  of developing illness
from asbestos exposure. |
What should I do if I have
vermiculite attic insulation?
DO NOT DISTURB IT.  Any disturbance has the
potential to release asbestos fibers into the air.
Limiting the number of trips you make to your attic
and shortening the length of those trips can help
limit your potential exposure.

EPA and ATSDR strongly recommend that:

       Vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed
       in your attic. Until bulk analytical methods
       are improved to more accurately determine
       if vermiculite contains asbestos, and what
       that means in terms of risk, it is best to
       assume that the material may contain
       You should not store boxes or other items
       in your attic if retrieving the material will
       disturb the insulation.
       Children should never be allowed to play in
       an attic with open areas of vermiculite
       If you plan to remodel or conduct
       renovations that would disturb the
       vermiculite, hire professionals trained to
       handle asbestos to safely  remove the
       You should never attempt to remove the
       insulation yourself. Hire professionals to
       safely remove the material.


What if I occasionally have to go
into my attic?
EPA and ATSDR strongly recommend that
homeowners make every effort not to disturb
vermiculite insulation in their attics. If you
occasionally have to go into your attic, current best
practices state you should:

1.      Make every effort to stay on the floored
       part of your attic and two not disturb the
2.      If you must perform activities that may
       disturb the attic insulation such as moving
       boxes (or other materials), do so as gently
       as possible to minimize the disturbance.
3.      Leave the attic immediately after the
4.      If you need work done in your attic such as
       the installation of ceiling fans  in  rooms
       below or cable or utility lines,  hire
       professionals who can safely  do the work.
5.      It is possible that vermiculite attic insulation
       can sift through cracks in the ceiling,
       around light fixtures, or around ceiling fans.
       You can prevent this by  sealing the cracks
       and holes that insulation could pass
6.      Common dust masks are not effective
       against asbestos fibers.  For information
       on the requirements for wearing a
       respirator mask, visit the following OSHA

What are the next steps?
The guidance provided in this brochure reflects the
current testing technology and knowledge of
precautions one may take regarding vermiculite
attic insulation. EPA is initiating  further studies on
vermiculite attic insulation and pursuing other

asbestos related issues. Additional information will
be provided to the public via the EPA and ATSDR
websites and through additional outreach materials
as it becomes available.
Is my health at risk from previous
exposures to  the asbestos in the
If you removed or disturbed the insulation, it is
possible that you inhaled some asbestos fibers.
Also the disturbance may have resulted in the
fibers being deposited into other areas of the
home. Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of
developing lung disease. That risk is made worse
by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to
asbestos, the greater the chance of developing
harmful health effects. Disease symptoms may
take several years to develop following exposure. If
you are concerned about possible exposure,
consult a physician who specializes in lung
diseases (pulmonologist).

Where can I get information on
testing or removal of the  insulation?
EPA and ATSDR strongly recommend using a
trained and certified professional to conduct
removal work. Removing the insulation yourself
could potentially spread asbestos fibers throughout
your home, putting you and your family at risk of
possibly inhaling these fibers.

For certified asbestos  removal professionals in
your area, refer to your local Yellow Pages. Your
State Environmental Agency can confirm that the
company's credentials are current.
You can find your State Agency at:

Currently, there are special issues involving
vermiculite sampling that can complicate testing for
the presence of asbestos fibers. EPA and ATSDR
are not recommending at this time that
homeowners have  vermiculite materials tested for
asbestos or have home air sampling conducted.
EPA and ATSDR will seek to provide further
information on the benefits of testing as new
sampling techniques are developed that produce
more definitive and accurate test results.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

United States Geological Survey (USGS)
What if I  have had work-related
exposure to vermiculite?

Workers who have had significant past exposure,
or have significant ongoing exposure to asbestos,
to vermiculite from Libby, or to other asbestos-
contaminated materials should consider getting a
medical exam from a physician who knows
about diseases caused by asbestos. For more
information and to obtain a fact sheet concerning
occupational exposure to vermiculite, contact the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH) at: 1-800-35-NIOSH, or

Where can  I get more information?
Additional information on vermiculite or asbestos is
available from the following sources:

General Information
EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Assistance
Information Service: Asbestos Line: 1-800-471-7127

EPA Asbestos Ombudsman

EPA's Asbestos Home Page:

Health Information
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Worker Safety
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) http://www.osha.gov
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hompage.htm

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