Windstorm Repairs: Caution with Attics, Asbestos, Vermiculite Insulation
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Thousands of area homeowners have had to deal with home repairs caused by windstorms in recent years. It's important to take precautions to avoid potential asbestos exposure during repairs.
"Whether doing the work yourself, or hiring a professional, it's important to take precautions to reduce asbestos exposure during home repair projects. Resources are available on our website. When repairing attics, be certain to first check for vermiculite insulation," according to Lori Rodriguez, Compliance Section Manager for Spokane Clean Air.
Vermiculite is a silver-gold to gray-brown mineral that has the unusual property of expanding into worm-like accordian-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 insulation. Vermiculite attic insulation is a pebble-like product and is usually light brown or gold in color.
Vermiculite itself has not been shown to be a health problem. However, some vermiculite insulation contained asbestos fibers, which can cause problems if inhaled. As long as this kind of vermiculite-based insulation remains undisturbed behind intact walls or in unoccupied attic spaces and does not become airborne, it should not be a concern.
Of particular concern is Zonolite® Attic Insulation which was vermiculite extracted from the Libby Mine in Montana which closed in 1990. The Libby Mine contained a large natural deposit of asbestos which resulted in the vermiculite being contaminated with asbestos. If you believe that your home may contain vermiculite insulation, it is reasonable to assume that it may be contaminated with asbestos.
Breathing in microscopic asbestos fibers has been associated with diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos-containing materials are not a health concern if left intact (not disturbed or damaged.)
What should I do if I have vermiculite insulation in my attic?
Do not disturb it. Any disturbance has the potential to release asbestos fibers into the air. It is strongly recommended that:
- Vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed in your attic. Spokane Clean Air requires that all loose vermiculite be treated as asbestos-containing material.
- You should not store boxes or other items in your attic if retrieving them will disturb the insulation.
- Children should not be allowed to play in an attic with open areas of vermiculite insulation.
- If you plan to remodel or conduct renovations, hire professionals trained and certified to safely handle, remove and dispose of asbestos containing materials.
- 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 through.
In the past, Spokane Clean Air has issued Orders Declaring Emergency due to Windstorms that waives select asbestos notification fees and waiting periods for Notices of Intent.