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EPA and ATSDR National Awareness Campaign: Potential Asbestos Contamination in Insulation Materials


New York, Jul 07, 2003

Teaming with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a national public awareness campaign on vermiculite attic insulation and the potential of asbestos contamination in the material. The EPA completed a pilot study to evaluate the level of asbestos in vermiculite attic insulation and whether there is a risk to homeowners.

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that has the unusual property of expanding into worm-like accordion shaped pieces by absorbing heat; it becomes a light-weight, fire-resistant, absorbent, and odorless material, making it effective for attic insulation. However, vermiculite ores from some sources have been found to contain asbestos minerals in trace amounts, and its use has become a national concern to numerous federal agencies. If inhaled, asbestos fibers can become imbedded in lung tissue and over time may result in lung disease such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

“The government believes that people should be aware that some vermiculite attic insulation can contain microscopic asbestos fibers, and there are practical steps that homeowners can take to minimize exposure. People who have homes with vermiculite attic insulation should become informed, not alarmed," said Stephen L. Johnson, EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. "By using the information in this campaign, people can determine if their home contains vermiculite attic insulation and learn how to properly manage it.”

To date, standards on vermiculite address the general specifications for its use and not the safety and health concerns associated with its applications. ASTM International, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer, writes general standards on insulation materials, including vermiculite.

ASTM C516-02, Standard Specification for Vermiculite Loose Fill Thermal Insulation, covers the composition and physical properties of expanded or exfoliated vermiculite loose fill insulation. It also covers the testing procedures that determine if the material is acceptable for commercial and residential use. ASTM C196-00, Standard Specification for Expanded or Exfoliated Vermiculite Thermal Insulating Cement, deals with vermiculite thermal insulating material in the form of dry cement or plaster. Other ASTM standards on vermiculite address various test methods, including density and thermal resistance measuring methods.

Asbestos has made headlines recently due to legislative efforts aimed at easing the ability for victims of asbestos exposure to qualify for payments from a proposed trust fund, thereby eliminating asbestos lawsuits. Sponsored by Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah), the “Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2003” (FAIR Act) appears to be a top priority for big businesses and insurers, which face hundreds of thousands of lawsuits from people who say they have been injured by asbestos, according to the New York Times.

The EPA emphasizes awareness and prevention. “Well informed consumers can reduce the possibility for exposure to asbestos from vermiculite attic insulation and minimize potential risks,” said Johnson. For the EPA and ATSDR brochure outlining the potential hazards of asbestos in vermiculite attic insulation and other products, please visit: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/NEWS/vermiculite051603.html.

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