According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 70 percent of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. came from a single mine in Libby, Mont., that was contaminated by asbestos. The mineral was sold commercially under the brand name Zonolite. Homeowners with vermiculite should "assume this material may be contaminated with asbestos and be aware of steps you can take to protect yourself and your family,'' the EPA recommends. As long as vermiculite remains in an area where it is unlikely to be disturbed, the risk of airborne asbestos exposure is much less likely. EPA also recommends people do not open their walls to check vermiculite.
"Generally, EPA's advice is do not disturb the material. If it is removed, use a certified asbestos abatement contractor," said agency spokesman Elias Rodriguez. "Also, you need to consider if any disturbance of the insulation — possibly by a contractor doing work in your attic — may result in the fibers being deposited into other areas of your house where an exposure might be possible."
"But when someone wants to sell a such a home, the issue will have to be dealt with", said Cathy Griffin, president of the Greater Capital Association of REALTORS. "If you know you have vermiculite, that is something that you would have to disclose as part of any sale," she said. And if a homeowner is not aware of it, that likely won't be the case for long, as the potential buyer will probably hire a house inspector, who will find it, she added. When vermiculite is found during sale negotiations, it leaves the seller facing some expensive choices. They can decide to pay to have it removed, which can run from $15,000 to $30,000, or negotiate a reduction in the sale price to reflect the new buyer's responsibility to deal with it at some future date, said Griffin. "Sellers are really much better off learning as much about their property as they can before trying to sell it," she said. Otherwise, a last-minute surprise by vermiculite can cause delays, and possibly even the loss of a potential sale. The owner of a 1930s-era Capital Region home, left to him in his parents' estate, learned of vermiculite contamination when he was readying the house for sale. The owner asked not to be identified, and that the house location not be specified, in this story. "It turned up in the home inspection, and now, it is costing $20,000 to get rid of it," said the owner. "The potential buyer is aware, and we agreed that we would have it taken out at our expense.''
Learn more about how to get financial aid to remove vermiculite from the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust, which is online at http://www.zonoliteatticinsulation.com/. A claim form can be downloaded.