As such, many vermiculite products, especially those manufactured before the 1990s can contain asbestos from trace amounts to high amounts.

Amphibole Asbestos

Vermiculite is frequently contaminated with the asbestos mineral type known as tremolite. Tremolite is in the amphibole class of asbestos, which is known for being friable and crumbling into straight, needle-like fibers that can get so small that they become airborne and potentially inhaled.

These straight fibers are considered more dangerous than the curly fibers derived from the serpentine class asbestos type chrysotile, although all types of asbestos are known carcinogens.

Vermiculite Asbestos Properties

Vermiculite minerals have a high magnesium and iron content as well as an extremely high clay content. In fact, most commercially mined vermiculites have a 2:1 clay content.

When heated, vermiculite flakes expand rapidly, reaching up to eight to 30 times their original size. This property has created demand for the material in a variety of uses, notably as insulation, fireproofing and volume-adding materials.

From 1919 to 1990, 70 percent of all vermiculite products sold in the U.S. were sourced from a particular mine near Libby, Montana.

This mine is known to have a high level of asbestos contamination, leading to potential contamination of vermiculite-containing products, especially those manufactured before 1993.

Vermiculite Use

Vermiculite shares a marginal level of the heat resistance, flame resistance and sound absorption qualities of asbestos.

Combined with its propensity for expansion under high heat, many commercial operations use vermiculite as an additive or a primary component in acoustic panel manufacturing, fireproofing and insulation.

Among the most concerning uses of vermiculite contaminated with asbestos is a popular U.S. brand of loose fill attic insulation known as Zonolite.

Asbestos-contaminated vermiculite is also common within potting soil materials commonly called earth damp.

Common Products Made with Vermiculite Asbestos:

  • Fireproofing for pipes and structural steel
  • Acoustic panels
  • Insulated concretes
  • Potting soil
  • Earth damp
  • Brake linings
  • Commercial hand warmer products

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