Vermiculite: What is it?

Vermiculite is a known asbestos containing, naturally occurring mineral that was used as a building material for its insulative and fire-retardant properties.

Property owner’s will most likely find vermiculite placed between ceiling joists in the attic and in some cases wall cavities, or cinder block. Vermiculite insulation may or may not be covered with layers of cellulose, fiberglass blown-in or fiberglass batt insulation.

When and where was it used?

Vermiculite in attic

Vermiculite insulation was predominantly used from the 1950-1970’s in structures to increase energy efficiency and interior comfort levels. Under a government program in Canada allowing grants to homeowners to increase insulation levels, it was one of the insulating materials approved to reduce energy consumption. As a result of this program vermiculite was used in homes built prior to the 1950’s and after the 1970’s.

Commercially vermiculite has been used in multiple industries since the 1920’s in various applications.

What’s the Risk?

Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. Workers exposed to asbestos in the workplace have developed several types of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer.

Like any hazard, length, intensity and frequency of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos-related respiratory illness. WorkSafeBC has set out very specific regulations regarding exposure potential for workers who may be exposed to asbestos.

For a property owner, it is best not to disturb vermiculite as this may release asbestos fibers into the air, and the risk of exposure increases with the amount of time spent in your attic. If the attic or walls of a house contain vermiculite insulation, leave it alone. Avoid disturbing the material. Do not sweep it or vacuum it up. Do not store belongings, or allow anyone to perform work in your attic, such as installing pot lights in a room below the attic.

How to minimize the Risk

To prevent health problems, WorkSafeBC has developed requirements detailed in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations that Hazardous Material Abatement Contractor’s must adhere to when conducting removal and disposal of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) such as vermiculite.